Sex Education is aesthetically pleasing and perfectly awkward, argues TV Critic Sam Arrowsmith
Content warning: this article contains brief reference to sexual assault.
When I first heard about Sex Education, I really wasn’t sure what to expect. I found myself flashing back to every awkward sex education class I had in high school. Bananas and condoms, seemingly endless slides on STIs and a lot of giggling. Whilst the show has its fair share of toe-curling moments, it tackles some critical issues facing teenagers today with a unique combination of humour and sensitivity.
For newcomers to the show, it follows Otis (Asa Butterfield), the nerdy, awkward teenage son of a sex therapist. His classmates are all struggling with their own sexual awakenings and, having picked up a lot of information from living with his mother (seemingly the queen of oversharing), he teams up with two fellow classmates to create an underground sex clinic of his own. The second season continues where the first season left off. Otis is happy, having finally shaken off his own sexual hang-ups and is in the early stages of a new relationship with Ola (Patricia Allison). However, it’s not long before Otis and his friends hit problems. Eric (Ncuti Gatwa) finds himself torn between two men, Moordale School is hit by a chlamydia outbreak and Otis’ therapist mother sets up her own consultation service at the school – and that’s just the start of it.
What makes the show great, though, is that behind all the humour and awkward teenage interactions, there are a lot of deep and serious issues that the show deals with very effectively. For example, in season two, Aimee (Aimee Lou Wood) is sexually assaulted on a bus. This moment is heartbreaking, and one that will surely resonate with victims of similar crimes. She struggles to get on the bus after that, haunted by visions of the man who assaulted her. This story-line definitely helps to raise awareness of the issues which continue to face victims of sexual assault.
These difficult issues are hard to deal with effectively, but the genius of the show is that, when the hi-jinks and laughing stop, they can be truly serious. Over the course of the season, we see a number of other key issues, including self-harm, drug abuse, and parental neglect dealt with sensitively. Questions of sexual orientation often come up producing some very moving moments. Adam’s (Connor Swindells) journey, in particular, fits this. Unlike the first season, there are times when the chaos of life at Moordale High borders on self-parody, particularly the moment where chlamydia hysteria sets in, with students buying face masks in the mistaken belief that chlamydia is transmitted through the air, but the writers never lose sight of the serious stuff.
The show’s tone makes it clear that this is no Hollywood-sanitised version of how teens think and behave. This is far closer to the real thing, with all of the adolescent discomfort that comes with it. The actual sex scenes themselves, are particularly awkward, but that’s the point. It’s not perfect, and the show brings that across. Combined with a unique setting, that’s somehow British, but with a very clear American influence, an unspecified time period and some superb acting the show is not only entertaining but educational and a window for older generations into the challenges faced by young people today.