Directed by Kate Herron and Ben Taylor
After the sensory explosion of December, I found myself, without the appropriate mental preparation, in January. The month of Mondays. I could no longer face round the clock eating and drinking sessions, and over the Christmas season I exhausted most of the viable avenues of watchable entertainment. And so, cue the January blues. Then, like a savior of my sanity, Facebook announced the impending arrival of a new Netflix Original series; Sex Education. My interest was immediately piqued (mostly by my love of Gillian Anderson and my predilection for a bit of gutter humour), and so I eagerly anticipated its release.
Even now, in my thirties, I must admit that I’m a sucker for a good teen drama, so it sounded right up my alley. But Sex Education was the least typical teen drama I could have expected; It had descriptive enough sexual references to make even the most hardened of filthy minded folks toes curl, with the accompanying images to boot. But I guess, judging by the title that was to be expected. I wasn’t exactly anticipating scientific images of vaginas (although there were those), but I was maybe expecting a relatively slow introduction, maybe a couple of expositional scenes, and a few awkward pre-sexual encounters. A little bit of introductory foreplay if you will. Instead the viewer was thrown in at the metaphorical deep end, with the first scene revealing an ample chested and ecstatic girl bouncing around on a po-faced teenage boy. So yes, as the title suggests, there is a sexual content. A LOT of it. And its great. However, Sex Education is more than hilarious sexual encounters that make you want to hide behind your fingers as you cringe. Much more.
Sex Education follows in the footsteps of its 90’s ancestors such as My So Called Life, and Party of Five, but as evolution should typically work, it has surpassed them all in terms of plot, visuals, and narrative. It deals with heavy, current issues such as; difficult relationship dynamics, victimisation, abortion, and homosexuality, to name but a few. Perhaps its not entirely original in the creation of the characters; the socially inept male protagonist, the gay black best friend, the love interest with a tough shell but a heart of gold, etc., but it’s the minor writing elements and original plot that make these characters so strongly individual and what inevitably defines this programme.
It may not be the first series of its genre to tackle the very relevant issue of abortion, but what must be acknowledged is how it dealt with it in such a sympathetic and appropriate manner, also showing it as a fact of life for some women. The brevity of the situation was acknowledged, but the writers still put a smile on your face through the union of three strangers momentarily brought together by the hard decision that they made. Cue the Smiths and we have a very tastefully done scene.
Another positive about Sex Education is how it normalised homosexuality; one of the main protagonists was gay, and although that’s not exactly novel in modern culture, it gave us an insight into his world at pretty much the same level as it did every other character. Oftentimes gay characters are the aside; there for comedic value and diversity, but Sex Education made him a strong enough individual that commanded the audience in much more than just as a peripheral character. Also, one of the teenage couples that attended for counseling were lesbians that were struggling to satisfy each other sexually. Now, as far as Im aware, this is definitely new. Most media forums have done, and still do, tend to avoid discussing the intrinsics of homosexual relationships, especially female ones, but Sex Education tackled it without flinching, as it should.
And then there’s the acting. Gillian Anderson played the role of a divorced sex therapist with atypical views and boundaries so well it was almost as though she herself had actually been filmed wanking off an aubergine in real life. Sex Education drives home the stereotype of therapist’s children being more messed up than typical children. Having grown up in a staunchly Irish catholic home, I can’t think which is worse; not talking about sex at all because you shouldn’t do it before marriage, or the content analysis of sheet stains. The main protagonist played by Asa Butterfield definitely holds his own alongside Gillian Anderson, playing the role of a sexually stunted almost 17 year old, who ends up counseling his peers for their sexual deviances; successfully may I add. An honourable mention should definitely be made for Ncuti Gatwa, who brightened up the screen more than just visually, and also Tanya Reynolds, who made outright weird seem almost desirably imitable.
Aside from the stellar acting and writing, the visuals could easily have stolen the show if the latter had not been so strong. Sex Education embraced the current obsession with the 80’s in terms of music, fashion, colour, and attitude. Some of the criticisms that I’ve encountered have centered around it being too Americanised, but its difficult to accept this viewpoint when the dialogue and narrative are so entrenched in British humour and charm. However, I admit that I was slightly confused at the combined usage of modern technology such as smartphones, but 80’s cars and visual palate. Maybe blurring the genres is a smart directorial decision considering that era-specific coming-of-age comedy-dramas have probably been done to death.
As much as the topic is novel, the dialogue funny, track list phenomenal, and the visuals rich, the real winning element of Sex Education has to be the dynamics between the characters as they maneuver their way through the many hap stance events. It cannot be denied that the programme is gratuitous, but it’s not without a point. It will draw a similar audience to that of 13 Reasons Why, due to its ability to tackle heavy issues, but with a bit more of a derisive tone and lightness; it knows what it is, and embraces it with aplomb and a challenge for anyone who wants to follow in its footsteps. I applaud Sex Education for broaching the topics that teens regularly think about, but that adults often don’t feel comfortable in acknowledging that they do.