My second piece for The Nerd Daily is live! I had a lot of fun reviewing the second season of Sex Education on Netflix, an amazing show full of diverse characters and relatable (if cringeworthy) moments.
The rest of this post is my review – you can also view the original here.
Just over a year ago, the first season of Laurie Nunn’s progressive teen comedy Sex Education arrived on Netflix. It was a roaring success both critically and commercially – when Netflix released viewing figures towards the end of last year, Sex Education was their fifth most-watched original show with 40 million views. It wasn’t long before a second season was confirmed, and all eight episodes dropped on January 17th 2020.
In its first season, Sex Education introduced us to awkward teenager Otis Milburn (Asa Butterfield) and his mother Jean (Gillian Anderson), who is a sex and relationship therapist. The show was rounded out with a cast of three-dimensional and interesting characters, amongst them are misunderstood misfit Maeve (Emma Mackey), theatrical gay best friend Eric (Ncuti Gatwa), and Adam, a bully with some figuring out to do around his own sexuality (Connor Swindells).
On the surface, it may sound like your run-of-the-mill teen comedy perpetuating some straightforward stereotypes, but there’s a lot more to Sex Education than first meets the eye, as our review of Season 1 explored last year. Yes, there was sex, and a lot of it, but it was awkward, messy and real, alongside nuanced exploration of young adult identity, sexuality, and friendship.
So, where did we leave off? After eight episodes, Otis finally got over his fear of masturbation and started a relationship with Ola (Patricia Allison). Adam was shipped off to military school having just given a very confused Eric a clandestine blowjob in detention. And Maeve, having just been expelled, had finally accepted her feelings for Otis… just as she found out he’d started dating Ola.
Season 2 picks up all these loose ends, tangles them up a bit, frees some, and throws a few more into the mix!
We return to Moordale, a distinctly American-feeling high school somehow located in the English countryside, in the midst of a chlamydia outbreak, and resident amateur sex counsellor Otis is in high demand. “I read that I should rub bleach on my vagina,” says one desperate student, “Is that true?” No. No, that is definitely not true.
Otis starts the season adamant that he’s putting the sex clinic behind him, but it isn’t long before Maeve is back at school and he’s giving advice again. Now there’s some competition, though – his mother has been brought in as an expert consultant and is unknowingly stealing his customers by offering guidance to the student body for free!
Between being the school ‘sex kid’, his relationship with Ola, his still-not-quite-gotten-over feelings for Maeve, his newfound addiction to masturbation, and his resistance to his mum’s new boyfriend, Otis has a lot to navigate. And he certainly isn’t the only one.
Part of Sex Education’s strength is its increasingly diverse cast of characters, all of whom have their own challenges and struggles. The writers aren’t afraid to touch on complex and dark subjects – Maeve’s difficult relationship with her mother, for example, explores the nature of addiction, relapse, and parental neglect.
We also have ongoing engagement with what could be considered ‘secondary’ characters from the first season. Jackson (Kedar Williams-Stirling) is the school jock from an interracial, same-sex household whose desperation to escape his sport leads to serious self-harm. Aimee (Aimee Lou Wood) has a particularly moving storyline around sexual assault, handled with delicacy and tact.
Season 2 expands its cast and level of diversity with the addition of Rahim (Sami Outalbali) – French, gay, atheist, lover of poetry; Viv (Chinenye Ezeudu) – black, genius, plus-size, head of the quiz team; Isaac (George Rovinson) – disabled, dance instructor, neighbour to Maeve with a dark sense of humour; and Florence (Mirren Mack) – Scottish, drama queen, asexual but not aromantic.
There is a risk by ticking all these diversity ‘boxes’ that some of them are only glanced over. Florence is probably the best example of this coming across as something of a ‘token’ asexual, though she also has an exchange with Jean Milburn that is arguably one of the most beautiful pieces of writing from the show: “I don’t want to have sex at all. Ever, with anyone. I think I might be broken,” Florence tells her, to which Jean later responds, “Sex doesn’t make us whole. So how could you ever be broken?”
The standout of Season 2 is undoubtedly Episode 7, where a storyline that has been building since Episode 3 comes to head. A group of female characters end up in detention together – Maeve, Olivia, Aimee, Ola, Lily and Viv – and are challenged to prepare a presentation on what binds them together as women. For a while all they can do is sit around and grumble, until finally Aimee bursts into tears.
After Aimee shares her story of what happened in Episode 3, all the others share until they realise that what binds them together is, unfortunately, sexual assault or harassment in some form. Since being assaulted, Aimee has been unable to take the bus – at the end of Episode 7, the others meet her at the bus stop and help her get on board, an empowering demonstration of women supporting one another.
It’s amazing how much Sex Education manages to get through in just eight episodes a season. With such a strong cast behind it as well as Nunn and her writing team, it’s a show that deals with an incredible breadth of subjects relevant not only to teenagers but to anyone in today’s world navigating the ins and outs of sexuality, identity and friendship.
Luckily, it was confirmed by Netflix on February 10th that a third season is already in the works, likely to drop in January 2021!
Thanks for reading! I’m excited about my next few posts for The Nerd Daily – I’m hoping to review a new book from the fantastic Laura Bates and sum up a couple of exciting releases coming to the Nintendo Switch.
Until then – so much to say, so much to do, somuchkat.