Netflix are sneaky scamps, forever banging out shows and with some hit and some miss it makes it hard to keep up and know what to watch. But when Sex Education popped up out of nowhere I immediately heard good things, so thought I’d give it a go. And I’m glad I did, it’s fantastic.
Set in South Wales it’s all beautiful green valleys and rolling hills bathed in late summer sunshine. The whole place looks gorgeous.
The story itself centres on Otis (Asa Butterfield), the son of sex therapist Jean (Gillian Anderson). He strikes up a business arrangement of sorts with super smart school rebel Maeve (Emma Mackay). She learns he’s picked up therapy skills from his mum which could be put to good use, so she proposes they set up a sex advice clinic for kids at school. Maeve gets to make a bit of money and awkward Otis, smitten by Maeve, gets to hang out with one of the coolest girls at school.
So they start sourcing ‘clients’ and Otis instantly finds he’s in over his head, advising students on their sex lives when he himself has his own issues and is hardly worldly wise in the complex matters of sex and relationships. And yet, he does have a natural ability to get people to open up and discuss their feelings. He also wants to get to know Maeve better, so he sticks with it.
Setup aside, this show is a funny beast, in that it’s an odd hybrid of USA and UK.
The kids have lockers, they go to prom, they’ve got a school logo that is textbook American, yet the cast act and speak, for the most part, like they’re modern British teenagers.
I say modern because, in another oddity, they all dress as though they’re in some fantastical version of the ’80s. It’s beyond hipster – far too cool than they have any right to be.
Apparently the show’s writer, Laurie Nunn, said this was a tribute to the John Hughes’ films of the ’80s, The Breakfast Club and Pretty in Pink. And also influenced by Grange Hill, but more a more aspirational version.
One of the things I really liked about this show – as did many others – was the way they seemingly, effortlessly, tackled a number of issues that teens deal with: sexuality and sexual identity, bullying, performance anxiety, repressed traumas etc. Which sounds heavy going, but it’s done, for the most part, with levity and a good whack of humour.
And speaking of characters, it’s not just the leads that we get to know well.
Most of the supporting characters get, er, character, but not in the way you might expect. Starting out as archetypes – jock, bully, mean girl – most of them get subverted in some way. So, without spoiling anything, suffice to say that like most teenagers, and grown ups, there’s a lot more to a person than what they show most of us on the surface.
The show does this brilliantly, often just using a small scene to add depth to a host of characters. Not only does this engage us a lot more deeply, but it also treats us an audience with intelligence. It’s 2019, we don’t need to be seeing the same old kinds of characters played out time and again.
So, oddly, it’s actually a very refreshing show. Feel-good and heart-warming, all those words. Before you know it you’ll have gobbled up all eight episodes and, much like a sexually repressed teenager, you’ll be surprised that all the sexy stuff was over quite so quickly.
Let’s hope they don’t take too long to give us a season two.