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TV Review: “Sex Education” as Sweet as it is Sexy

Martha Trydahl Martha Trydahl TV Review: “Sex Education” as Sweet as it is SexyPhoto still from "Sex Education," via IMDb.
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If you’ve seen any of the ads for the new Netflix series Sex Education, you’ve likely recognized only one of the actors: Gillian Anderson. Her presence alone brought of lot of fans to the series. But while you may come for the Gillian Anderson, you’ll stay for all the feels. That is, if you can crawl through the first few episodes.

With teenagers and high school life as your subject, the obvious John Hughes influence is there: lots of 80s songs, detention scenes and love triangles. But there is also an undercurrent of Napoleon Dynamite with the oddball characters, super-awkward humor, and a wardrobe and home décor wacky enough to make it difficult to place the time period.

But one big difference is that Sex Education never laughs at a character’s expense. It’s Napoleon Dynamite, but with sincerity.

Otis (Asa Butterfield) is a 16-year-old classic child of a therapist. He’s sexually repressed, and mortified by his own body. After a wet dream starring his friend, Otis confesses, “My brain objectified her and I feel like a bad person!”

Gillan Anderson is amazing as Jean, a sex and relationships therapist/single mom. She seems very open minded, with all the enthusiastic sex she’s having with her various gentleman callers, and smoking pot with Otis’s classmate. But she hovers over Otis, inserting herself into his life constantly.

Cool-girl Maeve is played by Emma Mackey, who looks like a punked-out Margot Robbie. It’s Maeve that convinces Otis to start a therapy “clinic” at school so they can make some money. Otis is hesitant at first, but goes through with it in order to spend more time with her.

Otis is adorably awkward. His non-threatening, “nice guy” demeanor is what makes him so easy to talk to. One student says, “You’re like my mum, in a little man’s body.” And no matter where he goes, he’s accidentally counseling his peers at parties, even outside an abortion clinic. Sex Education shows that teenagers desperately need a peer resource. There are still things even Google can’t answer.

Sex Education is more sex positive than sex shaming. It’s an honest, caring depiction of teenagers discovering who they are and what they want. Sure, they’re obsessed with sex; who’s done it, who hasn’t. But Otis finally realizes, “It’s not a race.”

Eric (played by the impressive Ncuti Gatwa) is my favorite character in the series. Eric is the always bubbly best friend to Otis, who starts to feel dismissed by Otis’s new “career” that is taking over his life. When Eric becomes the victim of a hate crime, we see him struggle with his recovery. He begins to find himself again at the church he’s previously abandoned. He is welcomed with open arms with the preacher stating, “We must all learn to love ourselves.”

Eric then evolves from playing with makeup and genderqueer fashion in his room to confidently rocking his look at the school dance. Although his traditional father worries for him, he finally sees the bravery in Eric’s lifestyle in a scene I could hardly watch through my tears.

Sex Education does an admirable job of showing gay and biracial couples in an accepting, normalizing manner. Even a young girl’s experience at an abortion clinic is handled so honestly and respectfully, it’s just not a show that could be made in America. Yet.

Due to it’s slow start, the end of the season came too soon, leaving each character’s storyline open-ended. More information about a potential second season should be released soon. Will you be watching?

Grade: A-

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