Sex Education drops Netflix viewers into one of its lesser-travelled genres – the coming-of-age dramedy.
The eight-episode mini-series follows a group of haphazard teens who are extraordinarily sexually active, and struggling to deal with their new found urges and emotions.
Enter Otis Milburn (played by Asa Butterfield) – the son of famous sex therapist Jean Milburn (Gillian Anderson).
While Otis initially comes across as a cliched awkward protagonist who struggles to fit into any group, the stereotype is quickly left at the door as his character goes on to flourish.
In the first batch of episodes Otis realises he has a knack for diagnosing and helping people with their sexually stimulated emotional issues, which pushes him into the hands of Maeve Wiley (Emma Mackey).
Maeve is the school’s “bad girl” who simply refuses to fit in to any predetermined cliques, and aggressively hates many of her classmates.
After witnessing Otis’s sexual therapy in action she soon drums up a novel idea: The pair of them ought to hold a “sex clinic” to help their peers through their sex – and relationship – problems (for a nominal fee, of course).
But the first issue arises when Otis realises he has developed a crush on Maeve and really struggles to keep it under-wraps.
Meanwhile Otis is also finding his home-life difficult – he can’t bring himself to masturbate, and his mother revealing this secret to her patients isn’t helping.
Asa (best known for Ender’s Game and Miss Peregine’s Home for Peculiar Children) is just excellent as Otis.
He successfully swerves the aforementioned stereotypes which inherently arrive in many coming-of-age films and TV shows, bringing a unique brand of “odd” to the screen which he owns entirely.
Sex Education on Netflix: Most of the show’s plots revolve around Otis and Maeve
Asa also instantly clicks with the actor portraying his mother, Gillian (X-Files, The Fall, Hannibal, American Gods).
Gillian regularly manages to extend Jean’s professional outlook on sex and human behaviour into her parenting before – naturally – falling into a panicky and prying mother of a teenage boy.
Jean goes on to put herself in a number of suspect situations which force her to explain her dubious actions to Otis – resulting in a constantly spinning revolving door of “which one of us is the parent here?”
Gillian provides a lot of comic-relief throughout the series as she stumbles her way through parenting – however she also undergoes a great deal of growth and progression in the eight episodes, and will absolutely leave viewers rooting for her to – please, God – get something right soon.
The outright best humour in the series is delivered by Otis’s best friend Eric (Ncuti Gatwa).
Eric is one of the few gay men in school and is similarly struggling with his own romantic issues, but is mostly the first person to either help or – more frequently – laugh at Otis during his weird situation.
The first half of the show sees Eric taking a little bit of a back seat within the plot as the focus solely sits upon Otis but his character arc is perhaps the most satisfying and emotional of them all.
Sex Education on Netflix: Otis quickly realises he is good at giving therapy
The adversity he receives for being gay, coupled with the constant bullying and disapproval he receives, provokes an intense climax when he is simply pushed too far.
However his final redemption scenes (in the church; and with his father) are astounding displays of emotional pay off. There will not be a dry-eye in the house.
Falling from grace and redemption are two ongoing themes in Sex Education, and would not be half as compelling if it were not for the utterly wonderful writing.
Each line of dialogue is believable and feels like it has fallen from a teenager’s lips.
Sex Education contains the same plot points that you may be familiar with from other coming-of-age showcases – bullying, an unrequited love, a love triangle, school rumours, etc.
It even incorporates a number of instantly recognisable tropes that have been cemented in the teenage drama since John Hughes’ The Breakfast Club.
Sex Education on Netflix: Otis’s relationship with his mother, Jean, is a mainstay in the show
The brain, the jock, the princess, the basket case, and the criminal are all present but Sex Education succeeds in taking a fresh, modern look at the classic versions of these archetypes.
Sex Education even goes on to attempt an improvement to these archetypes by prompting them to tackle a number of social issues and topics ranging from revenge porn, and kink-shaming, to privacy, making it feel like a more well-rounded journey for both the characters and the viewer.
And the writing surrounding each of the characters is easily the best part of the show.
Every character goes through their own display of intelligent, emotional, and witty writing, which ultimately sees them address conflicts within themselves, and move through it to become better people.
Although Sex Education’s characters float naturally through each story that arises, the final few plot points of the series leave a little to be desired.
Sex Education on Netflix: Otis and Maeve are the focus points of most of the show
Sex Education on Netflix: Eric provides a lot of comedy, but ultimately has the best emotional end
The introduction of a new antagonist in the final episodes brings some unneeded aggression which goes on to feel forced once it literally disappears.
Likewise, a lot of time is spent on Jackson’s (Kedar Williams-Stirling) backstory towards the end of the season which feels like it comes out of nowhere, and – ultimately – is more-or-less irrelevant to the main story.
Fortunately, as soon as Otis and Maeve’s endearing problems are concluded in the final episode, brand new issues arise and are perfectly teased for a potential second season.
Despite the show’s slight dip towards its end, Sex Education is a smart and funny Netflix original which has a lot of heart. Its large cast all manage to claim their moment to shine – bringing comedy and a lot of emotional story beats to each episode. Gillian Anderson and Asa Butterfield play off each other wonderfully, and only build on the world and sex-crazed nature of (apparently) every single character in the show. This coming-of-age story is better than a lot of other teenage media on Netflix, and deserves your time for its writing.
Sex Education is available on Netflix.