by Cat Edwards
Netflix’s latest release Sex Education is a balancing act of teenage angst, confused sexuality and humour. It confronts teenage sexuality in a way that is at times both hilarious and emotional. Under any other director, it could easily have been disastrous; under Laurie Nunn’s direction, it is ,however, an excellent series that encapsulates the confusion of early sexual and romantic experience.
The series details the lives of Maeve (Emma Mackey) and Otis (Asa Butterfield) as they try to provide sexual therapy for their classmates. In doing so, the characters are confronted with a plethora of problems within the romantic and sexual lives of their clients. However, these issues are explored with sensitivity from both the characters and the camera and the series never presents a condescending view of the first awkward encounters between the characters and those whom they are attracted to.
The series is cast incredibly well. Aside from the obvious fact that the actors look at least ten years older than the characters they play (a common issue with anything set in a high school), the actors seem to fully embody their onscreen counterparts. This is especially well done by Ncuti Gatwa, who plays Eric, Otis’ best friend. His performance appears effortless, and he is able to carry the audience through all of his emotional growth within the series. Gillian Anderson is also brilliant as Otis’ overprotective sex therapist mother, and the onscreen relationship between Anderson and Butterfield is beautiful to watch as each develops in their respective roles and tries to navigate the other’s life.
Aside from the standout performances, the cinematography and set design are equally beautiful. The high school, a strange British/American hybrid, appears removed enough from reality to allow the themes to be dealt with in a way that differs from other similar works, which usually centre around the awkwardness of the teenage years. This series still allows for humour to remain a central part of the story, but unlike shows such as The Inbetweeners or Big Mouth, it also shows the equally significant, sweet side that is also an important part of teenage development.
The series also highlights problems that are often silenced within sex education provided at school. It explores subjects such as LGBTQ+ relationships, female masturbation and insecurities about appearance. In doing so, it gives voice to issues that are coming to the forefront of public debate and subjects that deserve more attention than they have previously received.
This series is a masterclass in how to portray a phase of life that is often overlooked as lacking the emotional complexity to fully demonstrate the human experience of romance and intimacy. Being a teenager and feeling confused or naïve about sex is something that everyone undergoes, and Sex Education talks about this in a way that is sensitive and engaging.