Sex Education begins with young Otis Milburn trying to masturbate, but to no success. That’s how the show takes off. Not joking. From this point on, most people would get worried that the show wouldn’t be that good, but they needn’t worry. It’s not even halfway into 2019, and we already have a serious contender for the year’s best offering.
When you’re the 16-year-old son of an overly-enthusiastic sex therapist who unwittingly brings work into her son’s personal life, you’re bound to have a few problems. For most of his life, Otis has felt comfortable staying ‘in the corner’. His inner circle comprises exclusively of his only friend, Eric, an openly gay teen with an orthodox Nigerian Catholic background.
But having a therapist mom did have its perks, which Otis would find out later on. Otis discovered his own talent as a sex counsellor, and joins forces with resident cool girl Maeve Wiley (Emma Mackey), when she spots a lucrative opportunity in an environment filled with sexually anxious, and VERY active teenagers. It’s then he realizes that he’s actually worth something, and develops an unlikely friendship with Maeve, which eventually develops into something more complicated.
Now, a title like Sex Education might limit viewers’ imagination. But the show’s writers frame the narrative in such a way that sex only happens to be a device for everything else happening in the show; bringing out a sort of vulnerability in each character, as well as bring out our own. That’s when we, the audience, begin to relate to the show in ways we don’t expect when we first start out watching.
The show introduces Otis Milburn (Asa Butterfield) and Dr. Jean Milburn (Gillian Anderson), his mother, a headstrong sex therapist who tends to mix work with personal life when it comes to her son’s difficulties and experiences with his adolescent body. She also doesn’t seem to have any sense of boundaries when it comes to topics like intercourse, masturbation, perfomance anxiety, drug usage and so on.
Gillian Anderson stands out in a show filled with impeccable performances. Her fantastic comedic timing is a refreshing break from morose, drab thrillers, as well as her X-Files legacy looming over her. The show is incredibly funny, with clever writing, completely organic and flows smooth. You don’t wait for or expect the next one-liner to be dished out.
But at the same time, it can turn you from laughing your guts out to fighting back the lump so huge in your throat.
The creativity and intellect this show possesses, make this one of the best teenage coming-of-age viewings since The Perks of Being a Wallflower or Lady Bird.
Otis gets his big break when local high school bully Adam Groff (Connor Swindells), who happens to be the son of the headmaster, can’t *explode* during intercourse. Desperate to solve his orgasm problems, he takes 3 Viagra pills. I’ll leave it to you to imagine what that might look like.
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To distract him, Otis, whose head is packed full of knowledge unconsciously gathered from 16 years of interaction with his mum, offers some touching advice and tells him to “own his narrative.” The character of Adam Groff is that of a frustrated high school teen, with a bully for a father, who also happens to be the school’s headmaster. Consequentially rebellious, he lets out his frustrations on Otis’ best friend, Eric. Another excellently written character.
This show is purely character and narrative-driven. It gives us a wide range of characters who are so different from each other, yet so relatable.
Sex Education doesn’t treat teenage adolescence and sexual anxiety trivially; the writers view it as a serious matter to be addressed. And tell us that sex makes us do stupid things, whether you’re a full-grown adult or a sexually-stunted teen who can’t masturbate.
Special mention to the character of Eric Effiong, played by Ncuti Gatwa.
He doesn’t get lost as the gay black best friend who comforts the hero during his hour of need. We see Eric battle his own demons, in his pursuit to be accepted socially, while his strictly Catholic father fails to understand his life choices.
He tries to find his place in this world, and Gatwa, possibly the only actor to outshine Gillian Anderson in this show, brings an excellently written character to life with an award-worthy performance.
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As the show moves forward, we begin to connect with every character, in different ways.
There’s no ‘good guy, bad guy’ routine here. Everyone comes with their plusses and shortcomings.
Everyone is unique in their own way.
This stage in life, this part of life is overlooked or shielded by most parents. But Sex Education tells the story as it is; holding nothing back, in a heartwarming, tender comedy that both adults and teens would enjoy watching.
“Own your narrative.” If there’s something I’m taking away from Sex Education, it’s going to be this.
It’s not even June yet, but unless 2019 is on drugs (Viagra maybe?), Sex Education is going to be a top contender for awards season. Bring on Season 2!
Where to Watch: Netflix
By Aditya Sarma
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