It’s a funny thing with this show. Like many others, I was a fan from the first episode… the larger than life school, with its impossibly fashionable and irrepressibly horny teenage students. The fact that it tackled so many issues that young people face today in terms of sexuality, identity and body issues, and did it with confidence and conviction. It also seemed, at least in the first season, that it wanted us to have fun whilst it got its message across.
Fast forward to season 3 and there’s slightly less fun to be had. Mostly because our teens are growing up. Otis still remains arguably the lead, but he makes way for oh-so-many other characters with interesting stories to tell. Don’t get me wrong, having a plethora of compelling characters at your fingertips is an exciting prospect for any storyteller. The trick is in deciding which one or two (or maybe three) characters you’re going to follow that season. Although not with this show. Its ambitions are set higher.
As well as they will-they-won’t-they storyline of Otis (Asa Butterfield) and Maeve (Emma Mackey), there’s the complexities Adam (Connor Swindells) and Eric (Ncuti Gatwa) face as a newly formed couple who seem a little out of step with each other. We have Aimee (Aimee Lou Wood) continuing to come to terms with a trauma from last season. There’s sympathic backstory for popular girl Ruby (Mimi Keene), we have Lily (Tanya Reynolds) struggling with her weird, alien-loving artistic side, to the point where she likely suffers from depression. Otis’ mum Jean (Gillian Anderson) is pregnant, as well as trying to navigate relationship issues with Jakob (Mikeal Persbrandt).
Oh, and there’s also a new non-binary character this season in the form of Cal (Dua Saleh), who strikes up a close friendship with former star athlete Jackson (Kedar Williams-Stirling), who himself is trying to find his place in the world.
Cal is actually a fantastic addition to the show, but boy that’s a lot of stuff to try and juggle, in what amounts to a fairly short season (a mere 8 episodes). Issues that certain characters would be dealing with, would perhaps be the spine of an entire season in another show, but here they’re often brought up, quickly figured out and dealt with, and then we move on. There’s literally no time to dwell or reflect on anything.
In some ways you have to admire this approach. The show’s creators know their audience are savvy enough to keep up. Yet still, I feel like focusing on less characters and giving the ones you have left room to breathe might have been better.
This season, at times, feels like the ultimate exercise in plate spinning. We jump from scene to scene and character to character as the show valiantly tries to keep every story going before any begin to wobble. To their credit, the show’s creators make it look pretty effortless in that regard, but they’re still asking a lot of audiences to keep up with the rapid fire nature of the story.
Before it sounds like I am just being entirely negative, know that these are minor quibbles in the grand scheme of things. This show still remains one of the best in its genre. And it’s still a lot of fun three seasons in, even when balancing so much.
Without giving too much away, the season ends at an interesting point, and suggests a fourth season might put the characters in a different environment to one which they have so far been accustomed. I quite like it when shows do this, a sort of etch-a-sketch approach where they shake things up. This is often a good writing exercise: take a character you know and stick them in a different scene or scenario and see how they react. As such, this leaves me upbeat about next season — I’m looking forward to seeing what this horny lot get up to next.