When the Netflix original series “Sex Education” opened with a very nude, very explicit sex scene, I wasn’t sure what I had gotten myself into. But the R-rated scene ended quickly, and I was delighted with the rest of the show.
The plot revolves around main character Otis Milburn, played by veteran actor Asa Butterfield (known for “The Boy in the Striped Pajamas,” “Hugo,” “Nanny McPhee Returns” and “Ender’s Game”) balancing being a high school sex and relationship therapist while dealing with his own issues surrounding intimacy. His classmates, Maeve Wiley, played by Emma Mackey, and Eric, played by Ncuti Gatwa, notice Milburn’s knack for giving advice to the school bully and help him develop the skill into a booming business.
The show manages to be warm, intimate and quirky, yet raunchy and funny at the same time. Milburn’s mother Jean, played by Gillian Anderson, adds to the awkward, occasionally uncomfortable vibe. She is a professional sex and relationship therapist herself, providing the inspiration for Otis. But as a divorced, single mom sleeping with different men every night, she seems to have her own challenges to overcome. Jean struggles to relate to her teenage son, frequently invading his privacy and bringing up his masturbation habits.
Butterfield definitely delivers the star performance of the show. His social awkwardness and shyness make him an unlikely therapist, but he owns his lanky appearance and uses it to his advantage, creating a unique character in Otis.
“Sex Education” is nostalgic, drawing on a classic 80s feel in fashion and soundtrack. I actually couldn’t tell what year the series was supposed to be set in until there was a mention of Pornhub. The series is reminiscent of American teen rom-coms of the decade, almost to a fault. It has received some criticism for being inherently less British and more of an American show set in the UK.
Another flaw of the show is the will-they-won’t-they relationship between Otis and Maeve. The series ends on a cliffhanger between them, but the dorky kid going after the blasé cool girl is an overused trope. Their pairing could have used a refreshing element.
His friendship with Eric is also one of the most consistent, classic relationships of the show. Eric is one of few openly gay characters in the show and comes from a religious West African family. He struggles with expressing himself and relating to Otis when his popularity rises, but his humor and anecdotal allusions are one of the highlights of the show.
The writers certainly do an excellent job with one-liners in the show. “Sex Education” was playwright Laurie Nunn’s first TV project and she did an excellent job with it.
The show is compelling and funny, yet warm and inviting. The halls of Mooredale High feel timeless and universal. But “Sex Education” ultimately does a great job depicting realistic teenage identity struggles with family, sexuality, abortion, relationships, school and more. Viewers can connect with every character, quickly getting equally invested in all of them. While the plot may seem exaggerated and ridiculous at times, and definitely raunchy and crude at others, it still manages to feel natural and leaves audiences begging for a second season.
Julia Mancini is the associate life editor for The Daily Campus. She can be reached via email at Julia.email@example.com.