The thing about Sex Education is even if you hadn’t watched the first season, or if you just scrolled past it on Netflix, there’s a good chance you could predict everything that was going to happen in the series. Almost every storyline of the second season is built around cliché and coming-of-age tropes. There’s the jock, Jackson (Kedar Williams-Stirling), who wants to give up a promising swimming career to try and act in the high school musical. The edgy and misunderstood, Maeve (Emma Mackey), who after being expelled last season is now reenrolled and hoping to lead the school trivia team to the finals. Even the premise of the series—Otis (Asa Butterfield), a nervous outcast who ends up becoming the school’s underground sex therapist—felt a little too much like Charlie Bartlett when I first started watching last year.
The thing is—it works.
The first season most predominately followed Otis, his delightful best friend Eric (Ncuti Gatwa) and the aforementioned Maeve, as they assisted fellow students with their sex and relationship problems like some sort of weekly sex cop procedural. The show almost relied on a ‘monster of the week’ formula where each monster happened to be the perils of puberty in one way or another. The problem with that is the show became too narrowly focused and the students with these problems never got a chance to be more than their sexual inquiry. It chose to instead focus more on the love triangle between Otis, Maeve, and Ola (Patricia Allison). Some of the most fascinating characters like Adam (Connor Swindells) who is both the son of the school’s headmaster and resident bully, ended last season with a surprising kiss between him and Eric. Even Otis’ mother and professional sex therapist, Jean (Gillian Anderson doing a pitch perfect Emma Thompson impression) goes from having a string of casual flings when she is first introduced, to starting a relationship with Jakob (Mikael Persbandt), Ola’s father. The characters around Otis had just as much story to share and it was a shame that the season ended before we ever got to experience more of it.
Sex Education Season 2, however; takes a page out of fellow Netflix sex series Big Mouth’s book and finally expands on the potential of the subject matter. Not only does the supporting cast finally start to feel more developed, the show also uses the students to start exploring other aspects of sexuality. This season covers bisexuality, pansexuality, asexuality, anal douching, even a surprising arc from newcomer Viv (Chinenye Ezeudu) about platonic relationships. It may be pretty surface level, but it does give more care and attention to addressing the darker aspects like assault and trauma. In a way, it finally feels like education.
This season also doesn’t just focus on the kids but attempts to cover storylines with the parents and teachers to touch on topics like the importance of communication, reclaiming your sexuality, infidelity, perimenopause, and the differences between sex and love. There is a comfort in addressing that relationships don’t get any less complicated as you get older and that the parents are just as confused and in need of instruction as the students.
By treading closely to familiarity, Sex Education manages to evoke the same feelings of John Hughes movies and perhaps even maybe your own time in high school. Creator and Writer Laurie Nunn has even said the show is a tribute to the 80s films of John Hughes and in an episode towards the end of the season, the show provides their own tribute to The Breakfast Club as the girls are stuck in detention and are tasked with figuring what bonds them as women. All while continuing to balance a heavily ‘80s-infused soundtrack and use of the undeniably catchy modern songs of Ezra Furman. The show almost seems to exist across decades.
Unfortunately, this familiarity also can lead to predictability. Very rarely does a confession of love go as planned, and the show does rely heavily on ill timing of requited feelings. And although more students are given a chance to share their stories, some new characters again spend a full season underdeveloped leading to easily foreseeable conclusions of their arcs.
For eight hour-long episodes, Sex Education Season 2 manages to pack an impressive amount of storytelling into each episode. Realizing that this show works best as an ensemble has given it a new sense of purpose taking it beyond clichés. Jackson might want to audition for the school musical, but his story is also about parental expectations and the lengths we go to be our own person. Maeve isn’t just trying to get the trivia team to the finals, she is also attempting to repair her shattered family and juggle new responsibility. And Otis isn’t just the school’s underground sex therapist, he’s a boy trying to figure out how he can grow into a better person.
Just like the students, this series has grown into something more mature. Authentic and grounded performances from the entire cast elevate the show beyond the inspirations it was based on. With some surprising moments in the final episode (and the most awe-inspiring version of Romeo & Juliet I think anyone will ever see), Sex Education has an opportunity to become something truly special and deserves your attention.