Sex, pushy parents, and teenage tantrums. Netflix’s latest venture into teenage comedy-drama is a fun and relatable tale of the trials of puberty and sexual expectations. It features a fantastic cast of both familiar faces, like the ever-youthful Asa Butterfield and acting legend Gillian Anderson, and promising new faces like Emma Mackey and Ncuti Gatwa. It also raises very important questions and points about the pressures of modern life as a teenager and puberty.
Butterfield plays Otis, a sixteen-year-old sexually insecure and typical wallflower who lives with his sex therapist mother (Anderson), who is constantly pressing him to discuss his sexual problems. After copying his mother’s advice on a problemed at school, Otis is recruited by the cash-strapped Maeve (Mackey), the typically beautiful yet inaccessible school delinquent, to set up a sex clinic in the school. Each episode sees them solving a new problem, from ejaculation difficulties to insecurity around girls. Meanwhile, both of them have romantic problems of their own that need resolving, all of which leads to some wonderfully relatable storylines and scenes.
Butterfield is perfect as the awkward, blabbering pubescent guy who struggles to find himself in school life, but finds his amazing talent for relationships, except his own. Anderson triumphs in playing his polar-opposite mother, a cool and confident older woman who finds herself in bed with endless men, but who secretly strives for a real relationship. Special commendation must go to Mackey, who, in her breakout role, beautifully portrays an intelligent and confident girl crushed under the stamp of a ‘slag’ and her disastrous family life. I will be looking out for her in the future.
Whilst the series is full of fantastically funny characters and scenes, it also addresses very real and serious problems. Foremost is the pressure that teenage culture puts on teenagers to lose their virginity, or be the best at sex. Another is the universal parent problem, with Otis’s sexual inexperience conflicting with the expertise of his polar-opposite mother, Head Boy Jackson’s problems with his heavily pushy parents, and Maeve’s lack of parental figures. One subject the show deals with marvellously is homosexuality. An ongoing storyline is between Otis’s gay best friend Eric (Gatwa) and his efforts in gaining his conservative dad’s approval, it is portrayed beautifully and the ending will have you in tears. Meanwhile, Jackson’s lesbian mothers are introduced like any others would be, there was no dramatic reveal or crescendo before they were shown which I found both welcoming and a template for others to follow.
Whilst I found some problems, namely some inappropriately overaged actors playing teenagers and an overtly Americanised interpretation of an English school, complete with varsity jackets and a fantasy red-brick campus—Sex Education is the best series I’ve seen on Netflix for a while. It combines the humour and trials of young adulthood in a patchwork quilt of relatable, touching and hilarious storylines that make for a fantastic watch.