Sex Education poster

Sex Education

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What it’s about:

Capitalizing on the need for advice amongst his fellow students, socially awkward teen Owen — whose mother is a sex therapist — teams up with rebellious outcast Maeve to launch a sex clinic at their secondary school school in this BAFTA and GLAAD-nominated British dramedy.

Names you might know:

Asa Butterfield, who starred in Hugo and Ender’s Game. Gillian Anderson, best known as Scully on The X-Files.  And Alistair Petrie, who starred in The Night Manager and Rogue One. Most of the others are newcomers, but they have become quite well known thanks to Sex Education. Keep an eye out for Ted Lasso’s Hannah Waddingham as Jackson’s controlling mum.

Why it’s worth your time:

Unlike many high school dramas, Sex Education is genuinely realistic and relatable. Although it’s cringeworthy at times (intentionally so), it’s in this cringe that this series finds its charm. Teen viewers will identify with what the characters are going through, but even adults will appreciate the more mature themes in the show (and may even learn a thing or two). The series tackles all sorts of relationships, including LGBTQIA+ romances, as well as the ups and downs of high-school friendships and social circles. But it also takes a refreshingly honest look at sex, treating it as a perfectly normal part of life. It’s easily one of the most progressive shows on TV.

The first season of Sex Education primarily focuses on Otis (Asa Butterfield) who, due to his mother Jean’s (Gillian Anderson) profession as a sex therapist, has learned more about sex and relationships than he would have cared to. When he realizes that his fellow students need a bit of help in that particular department, he decides to set up a sex advice clinic with Maeve (Emma Mackey), a no-nonsense girl who is incredibly bright but has a rough reputation due to her family’s seedy past and unfounded rumors. Rounding out the perspectives is Otis’s best friend Eric (Ncuti Gatwa), the gay son of Ghanian-Nigerian immigrants; Adam (Connor Swindells), the troubled son of the school’s headmaster; Jackson (Kedar Williams-Stirling), a star swimmer under massive pressure to perform, and Aimee (Aimee Lou Wood), Maeve’s unlikely best friend, a wealthy and popular girl whose outlook on everything changes after she suffers a traumatic experience.

The ensemble’s chemistry is strong, with Gatwa as a particular standout in the role of Eric. He has some hilarious moments, from dancing around in his bedroom to Todrick Hall to serving some lewks, to more emotional ones as he struggles at school and at home. Butterfield projects just the right amount of awkward charm and surprising wisdom as Otis. And Anderson is a delight as his mum, delivering brutally frank sex advice with a straight face while also being kind of a mess when it comes to her own romantic struggles. Even the side characters are strong, like Ola, the daughter of Jean’s on-again-off-again boyfriend who hooks up with Otis for a while, and Lily, a creative and awkward girl obsessed with aliens and alien sex. Even the teachers have interesting private lives.

Just as in real life, kids get together and break up and then have to face the awkwardness of seeing each other at school every day. The show manages to cover just about every kind of sexual topic and issue through the characters’ extracurricular activities, and demonstrates the healing that can be done by employing, as Jean puts it, the three T’s: trust, talking, and truth. When things do go wrong, it’s almost always due to a lack of one of them.

Much of the series’ success lies in its ability to subvert its viewers expectations. No one is as they seem on the surface. None of the characters are black and white, so it’s hard to predict what will happen next. You have to keep watching to find out.

The takeaway:

This hilarious and endearing teen dramedy will pull at your heartstrings and also make you burst out laughing. You may even learn a bit about sex and relationships.

Watch it with:

Sex Education should be watched chronologically, as each episode builds upon the last. Previous plot lines do move the story forward, so this is not a series where you can start with the second or third season. It almost goes without saying that the delicate subject matter make this show unsuitable for a younger audience.  But—as Jean Milburn would surely advise—you might want to watch with your older kids and talk about the issues and questions it brings up.

Worth noting:

Sex Education has been nominated for awards from a variety of organizations, including GLAAD, BAFTA, and even MTV.

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