Sex Education Review – Dr. Netflix Will See You Now
Welcome to your teenage health class, my name is Professor Netflix and today we’re talking about body shame, masturbation fear and chinchilla felatio. Has everyone got a pen?
Sex Education is an addictive new Netflix show that centres around Sixth Formers dealing with the nitty gritty aspects of coming of age. Otis (Asa Butterfield) is the typical ‘virgin’ geek who is tormented by his own sexual inability yet, through the wisdom of his sex therapist mother Jean (Gillian Anderson), seems to have acquired enough knowledge to become the ‘Sex Guru’ of his Sixth Form. Or as one student begins calling him, ‘The Pleasure Master’. These events are all set into motion by the resident rebel girl Maeve (Emma Mackey) who becomes Otis’ business partner after setting up a clinic to help their fellow students deal with the tumultuous world of sex.
In a spoiler alert for this review I’m going to reveal straight away that I really enjoyed this series. It’s fresh, it’s funny and it’s totally sex positive. In a similar style to Big Mouth its mission is to give out information and let people know that all the ‘weird’ stuff happening to them is not as weird as they think. It’s a great idea handled with humour, care and openness.
However, I have one BIG gripe with it and I’ve got to get that out of the way first, rant oncoming in 3…2…1….
When and where the fuck is this show set???
Is it the UK? What fucking decade is it? We’re in Wales yes? Or somewhere so sunny and green that I honestly had to check where this was filmed because I couldn’t believe it was the UK. Maybe they filmed it all on the one sunny day we get in August?
I get that this is maybe an homage to the era of the Mighty Jon Hughes, when coming of age and teen problems were the hot topic, but I just need it to pick a place and stick to it. I’m loving the premise and the visuals but I don’t see why it needs to be all of these things at once. If it’s the 70’s be the 70’s! If it’s America then BE AMERICA. What we end up with is this Frankenstein monster that speaks in British slang, goes to High School in America and wears 70’s fashion while listening to 80’s music through their modern smartphone…I just…I just can’t right now.
I’m glad I stuck with it, but I did feel a small wash of annoyance every time I saw a bright yellow locker, a burgundy letterman jacket or a brown paper bag. That aside, this is a great show and worth pushing past it’s temporal confusion. So let’s get back to the good stuff.
Sex Education brings teenage issues and sex to the foreground of the conversation. It starts a dialogue, it indulges visually (whilst never feeling smutty or shaming) and it reassures teens that sexual desires are a-okay. For that I can do nothing but commend it.
We begin the series with quite a few cliches, that cannot be denied. However each of our characters gets their own turning point and becomes more than what they seem. Maeve seems to tread the line of becoming the Manic Pixie Dream Girl trope that we have seen played out way too many times, but she is handled with care and given depth as the series progresses. She is more than just a conduit to Otis’ successful journey into puberty and sexual awakening, she is her own character.
Otis himself comes to realise that he can be more than the boy in the corner nobody looks at. Eric (Ncuti Gatwa) has a deep revelation with both his family and his religion, extending his identity to who he wants to be. Aimee (Aimee Lou Wood) is allowed to become a self-aware woman, shown hilariously in a naughty little montage. Even The Untouchables become a little bit more likeable (a little, don’t push it, I still wanna see each of them suffer) during the spectacular ‘Vagina-cus’ scene! We witness women standing up for other women, men standing up for women and a cringing headmaster begging the youth to just stop saying vagina. It’s a testament to the script, and acting talent, that this show can develop its characters so brilliantly and make them so sympathetic and relatable by the end.
As the season progresses it allows us to deal with so many issues that plague modern society. Things such as socioeconomic status and the embarrassment it brings, female pleasure and the often lack of it in teenage sex, and religion and sexuality clashes (poor Eric). It would be petty of me to simply write this off because the cultural contents makes my brain spin, it’s an annoyance granted and I will still bitch and moan about it (my prerogative) but it doesn’t cheapen the experience being shown or the enjoyment that can be gained from this show.
So, of course, this is a show for the young. Yet one of my favourite characters is Dr Jean F. Milburn, Otis’s mother, who’s relationship with her son ranges from overbearing to oversharing, but is very loving at the same time. Gillian Anderson is clearly having fun with this role (just check out her Twitter for proof of that) and proving that age does not impede sexuality, she has managed to extend my girl crush even further with her role and holder of the seX-Files…I’m sorry, I’ll show myself out now.
So, what have I learned from this health class? I guess I’ve found out that each one of us is okay to be an awkward teen, and a pressured prodigy, and a sex crazed mess, a free spirit, and a nose-ringed rebel. Does that answer your question?
Sincerely yours, the Sex Education Club.