Sex Education starts off as a pseudo-British version of a John Hughes movie from the 1980s, with a classic premise and a collection of stereotypical and familiar characters. However, from the first couple of minutes, it becomes clear that this is the R-rated version of John Hughes as the series opens with two young teenagers having sex. After the explosive opening, we see the rest of the episode from the perspective of one of the main characters, Otis, played by Asa Butterfield, who is a timid 16 year old struggling with sexual issues of his own. In the first episode, Otis unwittingly helps out a fellow student leading him to partner with rebellious Maeve to start a sex clinic at their school. The rest of the cast is filled out by his best friend Eric, bad boy Adam, ditzy Aimee, sports star Jackson and Otis’ mother Jean who is a sex therapist.
As the series goes on, it transpires that the characters who, at first, seem like high school stereotypes are actually more complex than they seem. The standout of the group is Eric, played by newcomer Ncuti Gatwa, who begins as the comic relief and then has a transformative journey, which explores race, sexuality, religion, puberty and friendship in a nuanced and contemporary way. Through Maeve, who at first seems like a typical rebel in the same vein as John Bender in The Breakfast Club, the themes of poverty and its effects on children are shown from a novel perspective. All the characters come from a diverse range of backgrounds, so that the stories go outside of the norm of what is generally explored in a series focused on teens. Although they are all told within the sphere of sexual relationships between teenagers, each story arc is character-focused ensuring that universal issues are explored through a personal lens.
The show has been lauded for its groundbreaking depiction of teenage sex, which dives deeper into taboo subjects that are not often explored by mainstream series. By having such an array of characters it becomes possible to show the different issues regarding sex that can be faced by teenagers in contemporary society. Although the general aesthetic of the series hearkens back to the 80s and John Hughes, Eric’s pop culture references assure the audience that it is set in modern day Britain. Additionally, the show does not only focus on the teenagers in the series; there are also significant sub-plots involving the parents. As opposed to the generic parents in teen shows who are absent, villains or leave their children to solve all the problems, the parents in Sex Education are loving, caring, flawed and trying their best to do what they think is right. Although they are not all perfect, it is evident that they are raising their children as best as they can. Otis’ mother Jean, played by the amazing Gillian Anderson, is revelatory in her most comedic role to date, as she gives a layered performance depicting the difficulties that come with motherhood and womanhood in general.
Overall Sex Education is outside of the teen series canon that has included shows such as One Tree Hill, The OC and Gossip Girl as it focuses on the characters as opposed to the story-lines. The show respects each character whilst also focusing on issues that are faced by teenagers today. The series seamlessly intertwines these issues with an entertaining, hilarious and cringe-worthy account of teenage life. Despite this, the topics that are covered are so universal that anyone of all ages can relate to at least one, if not more, of the characters in the show. As its title suggests, this show is educating the audience on sex and sexual relationships, in a way that is reflective of the society that we live in.
by Aleena Augustine
Aleena is a Classics graduate who splits her time between High Wycombe (just outside of London) and wherever the latest film or TV show she is bingeing is set. She enjoys watching rom-coms (they are not just a guilty pleasure), coming of age films (from John Hughes to Greta Gerwig), animated films (cries at every single one), comedies featuring a strong female ensemble (thank you, Bridesmaids) and psychological thrillers (BONUS if they’re directed by David Fincher). Her favourite films are Before Sunrise, Inside Out, Zodiac and When Harry Met Sally. You can also find her on her blog, That’s What She Said and as a contributor for the music blog, Music Bloggery.