There’s been a lot of buzz around Netflix lately with the release of hit thriller Bird Box and the latest interactive episode of Black Mirror, Bandersnatch. That buzz is set to continue later this week with the streaming service’s latest show, Sex Education, a teenage comedy with a difference.
Created by Laurie Nunn, this British comedy drama series stars Asa Butterfield as Otis, an awkward, inexperienced high school student who lives in the small fictional English town of Moordale with his mother Jean, a sex therapist. When his fellow student Maeve, a fellow outcast, learns of his mum’s profession, she convinces Otis to set up his own underground school sex therapy clinic and the two form an unlikely partnership. Maeve deals with the financial side of the business while Otis uses the knowledge he’s unwittingly gained over the years to council his classmates on a whole host of weird and wonderful issues, while he also tries to deal with a sexual hang-up of his own.
Sex Education is a fresh and honest new look at friendship and relationships and is packed full of twists, turns, heartache and a whole load of belly laughs. But it’s not a crude, cringeworthy comedy full of sex-crazed teenagers. There’s substance here with well-rounded characters, each with their own flaws yet endearing quirks – even the school bully, Adam (played by Connor Swindells). The series brings to light a host of real teenage issues – some amusing, others painfully not so – and they’re all dealt with maturely. While the focus indeed may be on sex and there are some amusing embarrassing moments, attention is also given to intimacy, respect and love.
Of course Sex Education is also overflowing with dry British humour and memorable one-liners (“there’s a ball bag on your TV”), delivered with precision by the outstanding young cast. Asa Butterfield is the perfect casting for the wide-eyed and innocent Otis, the unlikely hero, and he has great chemistry with Ncuti Gatwa, who plays Otis’s openly gay best friend Eric. It’s newcomer Gatwa who threatens to steal the show in every scene he’s in with his wit and range; taking the audience on a rollercoaster journey through joy and pain. Sex Education is likely to be the launching pad for a number of young actors is a great show for strong, female roles, namely Maeve, played by Emma Mackey, who impresses as the misunderstood bad girl; and Lily, played by Tanya Reynolds. One of the most endearing and side-splittingly funny characters in the whole series, Lily is a direct, determined young woman who’s comfortable in her own skin, knows exactly what she wants and isn’t afraid to ask for it. And of course there’s Jean, played by Gillian Anderson who proves she’s as at home in comedies as she is in hit dramas. She also provides a whole host of laughs as the delightfully foul-mouthed “sex owl” with no filter whatsoever (you’ll never want to drink milk ever again), to the embarrassment of her son.
While at times it feels as though the series is set in an American high school rather than a British secondary, Sex Education is a love letter to US movies and TV shows, and this doesn’t detract from what is a refreshing, sincere and hilarious look at teenage life. With eight strong episodes, a stand-out cast, laughs aplenty, a cracking soundtrack and frankly a quite frightening cat, Sex Education is the show you should all be watching. Just don’t watch it with your parents!
Sex Education streams on Netflix from Friday 11 January.