By Will (Radlett)
Otis is an awkward 16-year-old just starting sixth form in an undefined part of the UK. His mother, Jean, is his single mother and doctor of sex and relationship therapy. Because of this Otis is unusually sex-competent (despite being as awkward as a sixteen-year-old is expected to be), which gives way to an unusual string of events that leads him to form an unlikely friendship with Maeve. The two start an in-school sex therapy clinic, where each episode tackles a different sex-related problem in the form of one of their clients, whilst also developing larger series-long arcs in the relationships between various characters. These characters include Eric, the best friend, Adam, the bully, Jackson, the popular head boy, Otis’ mother and many more.
Sex Education takes place in a reality where almost everything is polished and sparkly – the setting is always beautiful, the sun is always shining, and the people are always pretty. Because of this, it allows the show to focus on the core of what makes it so charming; the relationships. The elaborate web of characters gives way to countless pairings or trios, and inevitably conflict arises. Each character embodies some form of secondary school stereotype and deconstructs it to expose the floors – the immense pressure of being “Mr. Perfect”, or the reasoning behind why the bully is bullying. None of this is something that hasn’t been seen before, but what makes it such a watchable show is how these cracks in the polished facades of the adolescent stereotypes influence the interactions between them. Take, for example, one of the most important relationships in the show, that of Maeve and Jackson. Maeve is introduced as cold and mean, while Jackson is outgoing and popular.
Quickly we are shown that the two are sleeping together and Jackson wants more while Maeve doesn’t, but soon after Jackson breaks through the cold exterior in a sweet (if not unbelievable and sappy) scene, and the two start dating. We get to know the characters as they get to know each other, and as this happens we see the cracks appear that turn them from 2D representations of adolescence into full, well rounded characters that have mannerisms and flaws. The show goes deeper than that, however, to touch on some very real and complex human emotions. This is represented in Otis’ past sexual trauma of catching his father having an affair, or Adam’s repressed homosexuality. This never really comes to fruition, however, and since much of the time the mood of the show is more lighthearted than that, it presents us with these situations and then quickly moves past them like a therapist yelling meaningful words of wisdom to you out the open window of a passing train.
The other problem with Sex Education is that it seems to be in two minds about the place of Jean (Otis’ mother) in its story. On the one hand, she is the only element that isn’t surface level cliché – the awkward sixteen year old with an incredibly sexually liberal mother is an interesting and more or less original relationship to explore, yet once Otis’ sex clinic kicks off she is somewhat left by the wayside, as opposed to pivotal in developing Otis’ own understanding of sex as he tries to help others. Then towards the end of the season the mother comes back in the form of her and Otis’ relationship being put under strain, which is later fixed with relative ease.
The show presents itself as a story with duel protagonists, but sadly both under-develops one of them and the relationship between them, which may be a product of the sheer vastness of the number of other relationships which are developed well. Sex Education doesn’t take place in the world influenced by current affairs, the weather or even monetary problems (even though the topic is touched on), that we live in, but a smooth one. Doing so puts aside all normal problems and because of that the show really makes the point it’s trying to, about the place and pressures of sex in adolescence, and makes it in a very charming and entertaining to watch way.