It was one of the most watched shows on Netflix in 2019, becoming a firm favourite with audiences, and now the much-anticipated second season of Sex Education is back for another helping and hoping to repeat its success.
Created by Laurie Nunn, the comedy drama stars Asa Butterfield as Otis Milburn, a sixteen-year-old virgin who lives with his mum Jean (Gillian Anderson), a sex therapist. The first season saw Otis set up his own underground sex clinic in high school, with support from his friends Eric (Ncuti Gatwa) and Maeve (Emma Mackey), to help their fellow classmates with their various sexual issues.
We pick up the show at the start of a new term at Moordale High. ‘Sex kid’ Otis is trying to live up to his name with girlfriend Ola (Patricia Allison), but the discovery that Jean is dating Ola’s father Jakob (Mikael Persbrandt) puts pressure on his relationship with his mother. Maeve returns to high school, but a visit from her mother (Anne-Marie Duff) threatens to knock her off track. Eric’s fortunes seem to be changing for the better as he has a new love interest, and Adam (Connor Swindells) is trying to adjust to life at his new military school and make sense of his sexuality. This season also sees the arrival of new characters, while the focus shifts a little and the adults get a little more screen time with even some of the teachers at Moordale High in need of sexual advice. Jean, struggling to adapt to a serious relationship, strikes up a friendship with the headteacher’s wife (Samantha Spiro), while Mr Groff (Alistair Petrie) lands himself in hot water when there’s an outbreak of chlamydia at the school.
The second season, much like the first, is a mix of witty, laugh out loud moments; somewhat clichéd humour and emotional, heartfelt scenes. There are a moments in the first few episodes which are almost reminiscent of the Inbetweeners (‘courgette wanker’ for a start) with cringeworthy moments as Otis gets a grip on himself (quite literally) and experiences the new-found joy of masturbation, but as the season progresses the show quickly finds its stride and excels once again. Sex Education has been praised for drawing attention to the problems teenagers face and the second series certainly doesn’t shy away from difficult issues. While, as the name of the show suggests, sex is always at the foreground, the show is about much more than that. With Otis’s sex clinic taking a back seat, this season features powerful messages about friendship, mental illness, toxic masculinity and women supporting each another. The issues are handled brilliantly and sensitively and if anything these scenes are even stronger this season – there’s a particularly powerful storyline relevant to today’s society and the #MeToo movement that’s sure to strike a chord with some viewers.
Sex Education has already launched its younger cast members into the spotlight, and the second series demonstrates just why they’re worthy of their praise. Asa Butterfield is a strong lead and really comes into his own in the second half of the season, Emma Mackey continues to impress as the troubled Maeve and Connor Swindells is particularly brooding as Adam. Once again Ncuti Gatwa is a breath of fresh air as Eric, brightening up the screen in every scene he’s in with his razor sharp wit and amusing facial expressions; and Aimee Lou Wood also proves why she’s a star of the future, putting in a touching performance as Aimee and threatening to steal the whole show. Elsewhere Alistair Petrie certainly makes an impact as Mr Groff becomes more manic as the season progresses, while Gillian Anderson fans will be pleased to know she features more heavily this series. Though she continues to get her fair share of hilarious scenes (there’s a particularly brilliant moment when Jean’s vagina workshop is unexpectedly interrupted), she’s also given the opportunity to flex her acting muscles as Jean is taken on an emotional and somewhat surprising journey.
If there’s a downside to the new series, it’s that with so many characters there’s a danger that not all of them get the screen time they deserve – the wonderfully weird Lily for example, played by the brilliant Tanya Reynolds, feels underused at times – and the whole thing starts to feel confusing. But the new characters fit in well – the friendship between Jackson (Kedar Williams-Stirling) and tutor Viv (Chinenye Ezeudu) is one of the highlights of the season – and it will be interesting to see how they develop going forward.
With creative direction from Ben Taylor, Alice Seabright and Sophie Goodhart, a great soundtrack and beautiful cinematography showcasing the stunning Welsh countryside, the second series is a worthy sequel and sets up the action well for an inevitable third season. Despite the odd cliches and familiar tropes there are plenty of hilarious storylines – a camping trip that doesn’t go as planned, a house party that gets out of hand and a performance of Romeo and Juliet that certainly puts a new spin on Shakespeare – and poignant, hard-hitting moments which bring you back down to earth with a bump. Fresh, funny and sincere, Sex Education is the perfect cure for the January blues.
Sex Education streams on Netflix from 17 January.
Photo credit: Netflix