The inaugural season of the Netflix series, 'Sex Education', starts off slowly, but as you get more invested in Moordale Secondary’s teenage characters and their public and private lives, it starts to grow on you.
Containing all the predictable tropes of a Western high school dramedy (this one is set in England), Laurie Nunn’s show ensures that meaning is accorded to each little nuance along the way. It explores not just young adult sexuality, but also the effects of an unconventional upbringing, family dysfunction, parental pressure/expectation, and an inherent need to fit in.
So, once you look past Sex Education’s slapstick humour, it sinks its teeth into real problems being faced by teenagers both in and out of school. It is very easy for the show to be ordinary and laugh off everything in its wake by perpetuating the dumb kids’ stereotype. But what it does is take existing stereotypes, and explain some of the reasons that cause such cliques and behaviour patterns in high school.
This open, honest exploration of teenage awkwardness surrounding all things sex and all things identity is what makes the series highly identifiable. They keep it light, for the most part, but behind its casual vibe is a show that attempts to bring serious subjects to the surface.
Moordale Secondary has every possible character type you’ve seen in high school teenage comedy-dramas before. There’s Otis (Asa Butterfield), a socially awkward yet highly intelligent teenager struggling with an unconventional upbringing thanks to his loving yet mildly overbearing sex therapist mother.
Then there Otis’ sidekick/best friend, Eric (Ncuti Gatwa), a sometimes-over-the-top Black gay kid looking to express his sexuality. Jackson (Kedar Williams-Stirling) is Moordale’s star swimmer and head boy. Adam (Connor Swindells) is your typically dim-witted jock/bully, and happens to also be the head master’s son. Finally, there’s Maeve (Emma Mackey), the incredibly bright misfit who wears dark mascara, has pink highlights, and sports a nose ring.
There is also the usual set of popular kids obsessed with looking a certain way and spreading rumours about the others. The social hierarchies are in place, but it’s all about fitting in, deep down, isn’t it? When Otis inadvertently counsels Adam after he has taken one too many Viagra pills, Maeve (who is living alone due to the absence of her addict mother) devises a plan to get the former to utilise his skills to render sex therapy sessions for the students at a cost. It’s simple: Maeve handles the business side of things (acquiring clients, etc), while Otis will provide counsel. And, they will share the profits 50-50.
Sex Education leaves no stone unturned when it comes to the subjects it chooses to tackle. From teenage pregnancy/abortion and deep-rooted family dysfunction to masturbation anxiety and sexual pressure/identity, the show chooses a no-holds-barred approach to the exploration of school-going teenagers’ lives.
It does not just dig deep into the heteronormative behaviour of young adults, but has the courage to view sex and sexual identity through the prism of homosexuality and lesbianism as well. This is one of the primary reasons the show is so watchable.
Asa Butterfield and Emma Mackey are quite brilliant in their lead roles, but it is the supporting cast of Ncuti Gatwa, Kedar Williams-Stirling, and the inimitable Gillian Anderson (among others) that adds weight to Sex Education’s seen-it-before premise.
Scenes switch from the main characters’ lives to that of their parents, and their screwed-up relationships, providing ample insight as to why certain kids turn out a certain way. Adam, for instance, is a highly neglected child being brought up rather dreadfully by his strict headmaster father. It’s no surprise that the boy acts out to get his old man’s attention every once in a while.
The character arcs are so well thought out that the writers need a special mention for their efforts in creating kids that are very relatable and realistic. And Sex Education would not have had the same impact had it not been for its wonderful music. The web series pays homage to a host of 80s icons like INXS, A-ha, and Billy Idol, in addition to being influenced by the blues (featuring such acclaimed artists as Muddy Waters).
Perhaps it would be fair to call the show a teenage drama peppered with some quirky moments, instead of how it is marketed — a comedy-drama. Because, truth be told, the parts designed to elicit laughter aren’t all that strong. But the honest drama that it showcases will make you want to come back for more. It will be a real shame if Sex Education does not get renewed for a second season.
|Created by: Laurie Nunn
Directors: Kate Herron (4 Episodes), Ben Taylor (4 Episodes)
Cast: Asa Butterfield, Emma Mackey, Gillian Anderson, Ncuti Gatwa, Kedar Williams Stirling, Connor Swindells, Alistair Petrie