British comedy-drama “Sex Education” issued its long-awaited continuation of wholesome vulgarity on Friday with the release of its third season on Netflix. Like its predecessors, season three manages to produce the same amalgamation of hilarious embarrassment, painful awkwardness, satisfactory character development and warm genuinity, all of which were distributed in perfect measurements throughout seasons one and two. Since then, the series had already gained a “feel good” status that was assumed to be unsurpassable — up until its latest season.
“Sex Education” has clearly succeeded in making uncomfortable humor a part of its brand, as we begin episode one with a libido-filled montage that involves a large variety of characters doing a large variety of things. We later learn that this season takes place a number of months after season two left off, with a handful of previous cliffhangers being addressed: Otis (Asa Butterfield) and Maeve’s (Emma Mackey) deteriorated relationship thanks to Isaac’s (George Robinson) deletion of a crucial voicemail; Jean’s (Gillian Anderson) decision to keep the baby and her hesitation to tell Jakob (Mikael Persbrandt) that he is the father; Eric (Ncuti Gatwa) and Adam’s (Connor Swindells) official romance that has finally ensued after facing recurring complications, and the uncertainty of Moordale Secondary School’s reputation following the scandal of last term’s student-run sex musical.
As a solution to the latter issue, Moordale hires a younger, more feminine presence to fill in as headmaster — one who insists students call her by her first name, Hope (Jemima Kirke). Although she presents herself as a much more relatable, almost “cool” adult figure by dancing her way on-stage as a way of introduction, Hope’s visions for Moordale Secondary are nowhere near progressive. Her traditional efforts to revamp the school — encouraging single file lines in hallways, painting the lockers a monotonous gray, instilling a new school uniform rule — ultimately pose a new threat to the well-being of Moordale students.
“Sex Education” is no stranger to addressing social issues with its plotlines. Therefore, it’s no surprise that Hope’s orthodox methods pinned against students’ advocacy for reform encourages certain notions of a changing social climate. By addressing issues like gender identity, sexual expression, mental health and flawed sexual education, the show expresses a liberal sentiment that motivates younger audiences to question authority.
The sheer diversity of the cast is another aspect of the series that deserves praise. This season, we are introduced to Cal (Dua Saleh), a non-binary student played by a non-binary actor. Unlike most shows, Cal’s character isn’t just a pawn for representation — their background instigates a complex perspective of being a non-binary teen, including the isolated feeling of wearing a binder in a gendered changing room, as well as experiencing the complicated nature of queer relationships. Isaac’s return this season also offers a new facet of disabled representation, especially during his intimate scenes with Maeve.
However, season three of “Sex Education” doesn’t just owe its charm to awareness and representation. It owes it to Adam’s struggle with masculinity in the midst of being in a gay relationship; Aimee’s (Aimee Lou Wood) decision to seek therapy after being sexually assaulted last season; Cal and Jackson’s (Kedar Williams-Stirling) open conversation on dealing with anxiety; the elaborate parent-child relationships and overall character development that we see for so many individuals at equal increments. No other show can say that they offer flying penises in health class, while also producing the most realistic and heartwarming portrayals of human interaction.
Hopes were high for this season, and it’s safe to say those expectations were fully met. Watching all eight episodes poses an opportunity to feel quite possibly every emotion known to man, including laughter, frustration, satisfaction, sorrow, heartbreak, confusion, more confusion and joy. There’s surely a lot of sex, but there’s also a lot of education, particularly on the importance of social reform. Otis and Hope’s last conversation in the series is a direct reflection of this message.
“You know, I’m not that much older than you, but my generation knew how to conduct themselves,” Hope says. “We knew what was important.”
“The issues we talked about have always been there,” Otis responds. “People just haven’t felt safe enough to raise them. That’s what’s changing.”