Review: Netflix's 'Sex Education' not your basic teen drama
Take a moment to think back to your teenage years.
You’re trying to understand your changing body, navigate relationships, fit in with your peers, and handle all the other trials of growing up. For many, it’s filled with drama and embarrassment that you’re glad to have grown out of.
"Sex Education," the British comedy-drama series on Netflix, tackles all of those experiences and more with a perfect balance of humor and depth.
Season 1 of the show was released in January 2019, but I just recently binged (and rewatched) everything after Season 3 was released this past September. It took me a few episodes to get into the series, but once I was, I couldn’t get enough of it.
The story follows Otis (Asa Butterfield) and his best friend Eric (Ncuti Gatwa) as they navigate the social and emotional struggles of their teenage years.
Otis happens to have a mother who works as a sex and relationship therapist, and despite having no sexual experience himself, he has subconciously picked up on quite a few things from her.
When Maeve (Emma Mackey), the edgy rebel girl of their school, realizes Otis’ hidden knowledge, she proposes the idea to run an unofficial sex clinic with him. She knows that many of their peers are unguided in their budding sex lives, so why not help them out and make some cash while they do so?
So it’s settled, Otis will act as the therapist and Maeve will handle the scheduling and payments. The series follows several storylines of their clients and the central characters’ own ups and downs of friendship, intimacy, family, and more.
So, what do I like so much about this series? For starters, the topics covered throughout the show are important and they were handled so well. By the third episode or so, you’ll realize this show isn’t the basic teen drama it appeared to be.
Like the title suggests, the show largely focuses on concepts surrounding sexuality. This entails a lot of talk about insecurities, comparison, social pressures, and communication between partners.
I feel like the main theme of the show is to break down the shame that surrounds topics like sex and intimacy. It doesn’t shy away from topics that are often deemed inappropriate or taboo, it actually does quite the opposite.
The series includes some pretty heavy topics like sexual assault, abortion, self-harm, and substance abuse, each being handled maturely. They bring these issues to light in a very real way, where it’s not too dramatic, but not brushed over either.
The writers managed to maintain a beautiful balance of hilarious and heartbreaking moments. The seamless transitions from serious to laugh out loud scenes are really what makes the show so entertaining.
Another thing I appreciate is how well-developed all the characters are. Unlike many teen dramas that rely on fantastical backdrops or extreme scenarios for interest, I’d argue that "Sex Education" prioritizes its characters and their personal growth.
In addition to the main characters, you eventually get to know these stereotypical side characters like the bully, star athlete, and popular girl beneath the surface level.
There's a good amount of time showing the characters’ home lives and you can see how family dynamics play a role in their personalities. No one is ever as one-dimensional as they might first seem, and I like that they tried to show this with as many characters as possible.
Not only do you get to know the kids, but also their parents and even teachers. The fact that they gave a good chunk of screen time to the adults of the series was another one of my favorite parts of the show.
As the teens go through their trials, you see adults going through many similar situations and experiencing the same emotions. It’s a nice reminder that a lot of these people we look up to don’t always have it all figured out either.
The characters are sometimes self-centered and make illogical decisions. They struggle with understanding and expressing their feelings, often making bad decisions that hurt those
The show isn’t trying to make perfect characters, but realistic ones. It enforces this theme that we each have vulnerabilities and flaws, but that doesn’t necessarily mean we’re bad people, just that we’re human. We’re people that make mistakes but hopefully learn and grow from them.
The series focuses a lot on how people can change, and across the three seasons, I think it does a really great job of creating these evolving personalities. Some characters that were jerks at first end up changing for the better, and others that you loved from the start do things that make you want to slap them.
There is also the broader message of embracing our individual identities and emotions. Reflection and communication, often through therapy, are major parts of the show. It emphasizes that it’s okay to feel the whole range of feelings and seek help from others when you’re struggling.
Besides the story itself, there is also great representation amongst the characters. There are different ethnicities, sexualities, and disabilities and I think the show included them flawlessly. They didn’t try to milk it, unlike some shows that base an entire character around a single distinguishing trait.
Each character had their own lives and just happened to be queer or something, it wasn’t their sole character trait. And in my opinion, that’s the best way to normalize minorities properly in entertainment.
In addition, I really like the show’s styling, soundtrack, and setting. While it does take place in modern day, the outfits, hair, and music often nod to the ‘80s and other past decades. Plus, the filming sites like the houses and the forest that Otis and Eric ride their bikes through are just stunning. These features altogether create a fun eclectic feel that make the show extra enjoyable.
One critique I have for the show is that it does sometimes feel crowded with too many characters and plots, mainly in season 3.
In the first 2 seasons it was never too overwhelming, I actually really enjoyed how they began to follow many of the original “side” characters and all of the storylines felt of equal importance. It was like they were developing this whole community, not just a small bubble.
But, I think season 3 went past the limit of characters for me. It was to the point that it was hard to follow at times and scene changes felt a bit abrupt. By the end of season 2, there was already a solid cast that could have been developed more if it weren’t for some of the new characters and extraneous plots introduced in season 3.
Also, the show does include a fair amount of sex and nudity (viewer discretion is advised) but don’t let that turn you away. While at first I felt like they were just there for shock value, as the series continued, I grew to appreciate them in a way.
While most shows and movies normally overglamorize sex, with steamy sex scenes showing flawless bodies and chemistry, "Sex Education" doesn’t do any of that. They show different bodies and experience levels, a lot of the time showing the characters having embarrassing moments or learning how things work.
By incorporating these graphic scenes so regularly, the shock and discomfort goes away at a certain point. You almost question why it’s typically considered so vulgar to include these very natural things in the media. I think those scenes were needed to push the whole idea of normalizing sexuality and being comfortable in our own bodies.
"Sex Education" has become my favorite show of the year and I think it is worth checking out. The writing, acting, and overall production is great and I can’t wait to see more. The series has been confirmed for a 4th season which is set to release in late 2022.