Netflix’s Realistic and Hilarious “Sex Education”
By Daisy Murguia
The pounding of a bed, loud grunts, and sweat opens the first scene of Netflix’s “Sex Education” — welcome to the world of teen sexuality and awkwardness. The British “dramedy” series centers around Otis (played by Asa Butterfield), a 16-year-old misfit who is exploring his sexuality while not only going through the usual growing pains of most high school students, but also being under the microscope of his sex therapist mother. His sexual knowledge, thanks to the many paintings, pamphlets, and books from his mother’s home office, is quickly discovered by Maeve (played by Emma Mackey), a rebellious and smart peer, who tells him they can team up and make money by operating an underground “sex clinic” at their school. Maeve, who lives alone in a trailer home, needs the money, while Otis, who is reluctant at first, agrees so he can get closer to her. She is the manic pixie dream girl that seems so out-of-reach to him, but he is still willing to sacrifice his other relationships to be there for her.
“Sex Education” is more than just an entertaining and hilarious show, though it has already been renewed for a second season on the strength of those factors; it also normalizes and tackles topics such as abortion, same-sex parents, androgyny, self-expression, female masturbation, and safe sex. This is done through specific scenes on these topics, but also in other small ways like the character’s outfits and the way they openly discuss social issues. One of the most important episodes includes Maeve deciding to get an abortion because she is economically unstable and feels very alone. She decides to ask Otis to come with her, although she doesn’t make it clear to him where they are going. He shows up at the abortion clinic wearing a suit and tie. He is out of his comfort zone, but has the best intentions, and is one of the only people who is there for Maeve when she needs support. He even picks up flowers for her, as a sort of “Congratulations on Your Abortion.” Otis is a genuine character that, despite his flaws, is still a caring person. This quality is often missing in many characters on TV shows nowadays who instead are shown as whiny, uncaring, and annoying.
One of the most likable characters is Otis’s best friend Eric (played by Ncuti Gatwa), who is openly gay in a black Christian family with many women and a strict, stoic father. Despite his environment, Eric continues to be unapologetically himself. His peers have coined him “Tromboner” even though, technically, he plays the French horn. He is consistently bullied by the school director’s son, who happens to also be the school’s pesky troublemaker. As the season progresses, Eric begins his own journey of self-expression and self-acceptance that, at times, diverts away from his best friend Otis. The show makes it clear this journey is one he must endure on his own. He learns exactly who he is, what he wants, and what he believes in while, ironically enough, looking and acting nothing like his usual bubbly and colorful self. He eventually unveils his true self, and that is a beautiful sight to see.
The show’s soundtrack intertwines gracefully with the scenes that depict the awkwardness of high school, growing pains, and teen angst. “I’m Gonna Feel Every Feelin’ In The Book Tonight” by Ezra Furman is the perfect embodiment of teen angst, playing while bad girl Maeve looks at a picture of her mother, who is an addict that abandoned her years before. The lyrics “Fuck the panic / fuck the hurt / fuck the sadness / fuck the shame / I’m gonna feel every feeling / and only love / and only love will remain” resonate with us all. We especially feel for Maeve, who seemed so standoffish and rebellious at first, when in reality, she was just coping with being on her own and desperately desiring a familial connection that everyone around her took for granted.
Many of the songs are older classics like “Old Time Rock & Roll” by Bob Seger, “Boys Don’t Cry” by The Cure, “Love Really Hurts Without You” by Billy Ocean, and the ever-classic and slightly overused “Asleep” by The Smiths. The rest of the soundtrack includes originals from Ezra Furman, who managed to catch the essence of the show: growing up is hard, life is hard and sucks for everyone, and no one gets what they want. The only other dramedy to have such an exquisite soundtrack is “The End of the Fucking World,” which also happens to be a British dramedy series that was given the green light for a second season.
While there are many forgettable shows that are hard to swallow — no pun intended — “Sex Education” comes as a palate cleanser; it is funny, yet serious in its tackling of social issues. It doesn’t demean them, and instead attempts to educate. The comedy isn’t sacrificed, yet the message is crystal clear: live and let live, and be your truest self, because no one else can make you care and respect yourself, only you can do that.