Sex Education is deliciously awkward
Moordale Secondary is a fictional high school, somewhere in England. It is full of regular teenagers doing regular teenage things: shoving each other in the corridors, smoking in the out-of-bounds toilets, cheating on essays, and trying to get laid.
It is here that Otis Milburn (Asa Butterfield) and Maeve Wiley (Emma Mackey) fall into unlikely partnership, providing sex and relationship advice to their peers… for a small fee.
Otis and Jean, his mum, are polar opposites
Otis is the only son of Jean, a sex therapist played by Gillian Anderson. While Jean is beautiful and charming and has a parade of lovers coming through her home, Otis is awkward and anxious and is having significant problems dealing with his own sexuality.
Maeve is also beautiful, but for some reason draws the ire of most of her classmates, who have nicknamed her “cock biter”. Explaining how this pair end up selling sex advice to other teenagers would be a spoiler, but the first episode is so much fun, you won’t mind watching the whole thing to find out.
It’s lump-in-your-throat relatable
Sex Education is a teen comedy that at times gave me a full-on lump in my throat. It’s graphic and vulgar (there are nude shots, and discussions of what happens to your anus when you get stoned), but it deals deftly with the sex and relationship questions that have tormented teenagers forever, as well as those that are a product of a more modern time.
Why will my girlfriend only have sex with me with the lights out? Why, when I started sleeping with my best friend in the whole world, was there simply no chemistry? Why would anyone take a photo of their vagina and send it to someone else? Why would that someone else use that photo as a tool of revenge, and how would that ruin the first person’s life? How many times and in how many different ways does a girl need to turn a boy down, before he accepts that “no” means no?
Not just about sex – or education
Of course, there’s more to Sex Education than a series of therapy sessions.
There’s an excellent soundtrack. There are some agonising love triangles. There are several sub-plots exploring the difficult relationships teenagers have with their families: Otis and his intruding mother, school-bully Adam (Connor Swindells) and his emotionally abusive headmaster father, Head Boy Jackson (Kedar Williams-Stirling) and his hyper-competitive mothers.
One of the absolute stand-out characters is Eric (Ncuti Gatwa), Otis’s best friend, who is also gay. He arcs from extreme optimism to absolute despair and then back to self-love as the series progresses and his relationship with Otis and his family changes, and his story is one of the most powerful in the show.
Fresh faces, complex characters
The cast of Sex Education is fresh and young, and with the exception of Gillian Anderson and Alistair Petrie, the actors will be unfamiliar to most. Nevertheless, they are excellent, and lend all their characters such complexity and empathy that by the end of the series, I felt affection for even the nastiest among them.