’Tis the season of love and romance. It’s Valentine’s Day — meaning that all the singles will try to find the least depressing activity to pass the day with. This usually ends up including a whole whack of junk food or takeout and everyone’s favourite pastime: Netflix.
If you’re looking for a good show to watch, look no further than the Netflix original Sex Education. It follows socially awkward and sexually repressed teenager Otis Milburn, played by Asa Butterfield, who is the son of sex therapist Jean Milburn, played by Gillian Anderson.
Raised surrounded by volumes of sexually liberating literature, detailed art of human anatomy and an overtly open and sexually liberal mother, Otis learns a lot about human sexuality. When the kids at school find out about his knowledge of sexual health, he decides to start a sextherapy business of his own with the help of resident school badass and outcast, Maeve Wiley, played by Emma Mackey.
In doing this, he also begins to come to terms with his own repressed sexuality. As you can probably imagine, hilarity, awkwardness and actual sex-education ensues.
Not only does Sex Education answer some of the awkward questions that we were too scared or embarrassed to ask as young adults but it does so in eight binge-worthy episodes of dramedy. The show tackles many challenging current issues such as abortion, sexual harassment, bullying, female solidarity and selfacceptance in a tasteful and informative way.
I mean, about as tasteful as a show with a sex scene in almost every episode can get.
One of the most compelling characters is Eric Effoing, Otis’ best — and at the start, only — friend. In a brilliant performance by Ncuti Gatwa, Eric takes the gay-bestfriend trope and transforms it from just a flat, sassy, oneliner-throwing character into a well-rounded, emotionally variant one. This is only made more interesting by the fact that he is a first-generation immigrant.
There is also a beautiful story arc of Eric rejecting church and religion at the start of the show — presumably because he doesn’t feel like he’d be accepted — and returning to church again towards the end of the season and being welcomed back with open arms. The issue of homosexuality and the church obviously goes much deeper than this, but it was nice to see that little glimmer of light, especially in the context of a predominantly African church.
Visually, the show was beautiful in its subtly. Filmed mostly in the luscious green Wye Valley in England and Wales with the scenes at the high school filmed at what used to be the campus of the University of South Wales in Caerleon, Newport, the show has an inviting, warm neutral-green palette. This is even more alluring considering the type of weather we’ve been having in good old Saskatchewan recently.
The show also creates its own unique timeline in the costume department. Think 90s high school-movie clothes, with the occasional Saved By The Bell– and High School Musical-era outfit thrown in, except everyone somehow has early-generation touch-screen phones.
Sex Education takes everything you love about the typical 90s and aughts high school-drama tropes and turns all your expectations upside down. It has everything from the crazy principal — think Ed Rooney from Ferris Bueller’s Day Off — to the popular mean girls to the quintessential red-Solo-cup-dominated high school party and the happily-ever-after-themed dance.
All this aside, it is also representative of many different types of people, families and living situations, paying special care to avoid pigeonholing certain groups. It may not beat having someone to spend Valentine’s Day with, but it sure is a good distraction.
Graphic: Mỹ Anh Phan