TBB Recommends- Netflix’s Sex Education

‘Sex Education’ is one of the few shows that does exactly what is says on the tin.

It’s an unapologetic, and surprisingly heartfelt, look into the testing times of teenagers going through puberty, that manages to hide a great deal of real advice on sex, relationships and self-love behind its humour and hijinks.

The show follows the life of socially awkward, sixth-form virgin Otis Milburn (Asa Butterfield) who lives with his sex therapist mother Jean Milburn (Gillian Anderson). When it turns out that he has learned a lot from listening in on the therapy sessions his mother conducts, he teams up with the schools resident bad-girl Maeve Wiley (Emma Mackey) to set up The Clinic to provide sex and relationship advice to their peers in exchange for money.

The Netfilx Original manages to bring something entirely new to the table as we navigate these common teenage problems with a litany of realised and developed characters, all with unique perspectives on the common theme of sex.

Firstly, we are introduced to Otis, a 16-year-old who describes himself as “sexually repressed”, and with him, we are shown that there is so much more than the usual one-track minded teen whose only motivation is sex. Instead, Otis is completely opposed to the idea of sex, something unfathomable by his peers and his very sexually active, mother. While his phobia of intimacy is initially played off as a joke, the true origins of his fear become apparent as Otis is forced to confront his sexuality in a number of ways as The Clinic and growing feelings for Maeve expose him to intimate relationships.

Maeve, the mastermind behind The Clinic, is perhaps a character we are more used to seeing in this kind of teen drama. She is the scary, aloof bad-girl who isn’t afraid of her sexuality. As a result, she is outcast and bullied by her peers. This doesn’t stop her however as she proves to be strong-willed and undeniably good by the end of the first series.

Stand out character is Eric Effiong (Ncuti Gatwa) who also shows a great deal of development between the first and last episode. He becomes so much more than the stereotyical gay best friend there for comic relief, as he navigates through his own issues with identity as the story progresses. Once openly and unapologetically gay, a series of unfortunate events cause him to become isolated and angry, refusing the help of those around him. The story arch of not only his character but all the teenagers introduced to us, seem real and grounded while still managing to be entertaining. ***Him being of African heritage also plays an important part. Slightly irritating that there was the stereotypical black parental discomfort with having a gay son. Though to be fair it wasn’t heavy-handed and in a brilliant and powerful scene of reconciliation between Eric and his father played by Deboia Oparei all is forgiven. *** Editor

Whilst everything is clearly exaggerated for the screen, the issues the teens come to The Clinic with, and the problems our main characters face are realistic and the advice Otis dishes can be used in the real world. Clever use of Jedi Mind tricks writers. Beyond just being a funny concept of a 16-year old virgin dishing out excellent sex advice learnt from his overbearing mother, Sex Educationmanages to turn each of the hilarious, but admittedly one dimensional, characters we see in the first half of the series, into true reflections of what it is like to grow up surrounded by others your age who are obsessed with one thing: sex.

Perhaps the only problems stem from the confusion British viewers, who went to school in the UK, may experience with the Americanisation of the sixth form college in the show. Despite being filmed and most likely set in a small town in Wales, there is the unfamiliar presence of very American High school-style traditions. This includes the huge school the children attend, fit with their own set of jocks, mean girls and school dances. Though somewhat jarring, once you get past the fact that this is most likely a ploy to increase the viewership across the pond, the show remains a touching coming-of-age tale, something that can be identified within any setting.

Overall, I think it’s fair to say that any show which prides itself on beginning its very first episode with a scene depicting the unsuccessful sex lives of two sixth form students is bound to be something we have never seen before. While it has been deemed the next Skins, I think Sex Education stands apart from the often over dramatised life of teens many other shows boast, instead, giving its viewer a real look into how different sex and relationships can be for everyone. I highly recommend watching Sex Education, if not for the acting, well explored themes and story-arcs of all of the characters, but for the excellent music that accompanies every episode.

TBB Recommendation By Jade Fakokunde

*** Editor’s couldn’t help but add her two pence note: as an older woman, mother of 18-year-old British Black girl, though my daughter and I thoroughly enjoyed this series (watched separately because NO)… when we reconvened to discuss it, we both agreed what was missing from Sex Education was the visibility of black girls. Regular, melaninated black girls. Sometimes with the mainstream desperately wanting to meet the diversity mark, they consider everything but black girls. Young black girls who have their own style, banter and wit are often forgotten with shows like this rather opting for the mixed race / culturally westernised light-skinned girl as we saw with Ola played wonderfully by Patricia Allison and (sorry) the young actress who played one Otis’ sex bothered clientele whose name I couldn’t find.

Another slight peeve was this world where every single character was blissfully in an interracial relationship. Interracial love does not equal the end of racism nor racial utopian harmony. White creatives, it’s perfectly okay to show diversity with same race love stories. You aren’t showcasing your non-racism by avoiding it, actually with all the non-white characters having white love interests you’re slightly perpetuating the notion that white people are the epicentre of every ethnic’s desire which simply is not true and a little narcissistic and white privilegey. We have confirmation that there’ll be a second series. My hope is that a new black girl is cast, say Adedayo Adelayo, or Simona Brown etc. who joins the school and gets the attention of Jackson. Shouldn’t be too hard to write in? ***End of editor’s note

Sex Education

Directors: Kate Herron, Ben Taylor

Writers: Laurie Nunn, Sophie Goodhart, Bisha K. Ali, Laura Hunter, Laura Neal, Freddy Syborn

Cast: Ncuti Gatwa, Kedar Williams-Stirling, Deobia Oparei, Sharon Duncan-Brewster, Doreene Blackstock, Kadeem Ramsay, Daniel Adegboyega, Femi Elufowoju Jr.

Where to watch: Netflix


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