Review: Sex Education
Starring Gillian Anderson, Asa Butterfield, Emma Mackey, Ncuti Gatwa, Connor Swindells, and Kedar Williams-Stirling
To get the obvious out of the way first, Sex Education is a British comedy that many of Insights’ readers may find offensive. Dealing as it does with themes like extramarital sex and littered with coarse language, it’s simply not for everyone.
Those who don’t have a problem with this content (or can persevere with it) will be rewarded with a show that deals with sexuality in an intelligent way that has not really been achieved before in comedy.
Sex Education centres on the protagonist Otis Milburn. A somewhat shy but genuinely caring teenager, Otis lives with his single mother, the well-known sex therapist Dr Jean F. Milburn, whose one night stands and lack of proper parental boundaries are starting to have negatively impact her son’s life. In the face of some crises at their school, Otis and his new friend/crush Maeve decide to open a sex and relationships counselling service for the other students. This proves to be successful and rapidly grows in popularity, and the service is soon inundated with requests. Joining Otis in all of this is his best friend Eric, a gay student trying to navigate his school’s bullying culture and reconcile his sexuality with his conservative Christian upbringing.
Yes, Sex Education’s comedy is based largely around smutty jokes, but this is not the show’s major appeal. The explicit content that features in the show oftentimes makes a point about human sexuality, so often the subject of so much shame and conflict. The show also touches upon bullying, friendship, and what it means to grow up and move on.
A surprisingly wholesome story line featuring Eric is one of the first season’s surprises, particularly for its positive depiction of his experience of his church congregation. This portrayal of faith eschews easy stereotypes, something that more shows will hopefully take up.
Delivering all of this is a talented and diverse cast. The most famous of these is undoubtedly Gillian Anderson, who continues her career resurgence with a hilarious performance. Anderson brings equal amounts of cringe humour and genuine insight to her performance, which stands out as unlike anything that she has portrayed before. Asa Butterfield delivers well as Otis, managing to add equal parts awkwardness and charm. Perhaps the strongest performance is delivered by Ncuti Gatwa, who manages to portray Eric as so much more than a gay best friend archetype.
The first season also manages to be genuinely surprising in a few of the early plot points, something that is genuinely rare.
At the time of writing, Netflix were yet to confirm whether or not Sex Education will be renewed for a second season, although there are plenty of threads that could make for a solid foundation for years to come.
Of course, select who you watch this one with very carefully:
Padawan: I starting watching Sex Education, it’s good, you should watch it!
Me: Sure, should we watch it together?
Padawan: Absolutely not.
— Rae Johnston (@raejohnston) January 14, 2019
Sex Education is rated MA 15+ and is now streaming on Netflix
Jonathan Foye is Insights’ Editor