Netflix’s new comedy series is the first good show of 2019.
Nobody has an easy time transitioning into a sexually active young person. If you have friends that claim that their coming-of-age period was a cakewalk, promptly slap them in the face and call them a liar. Some recent television has been able to capture the horror and humiliation that everyone goes through when they’re changing, (hello, Big Mouth–you crazy, beautiful bastard), but Netflix’s Sex Education gives audiences young people starting to practice serious sexual relations with one another with graphic and bawdy humor. Need a great new show to kick off 2019? Sex Education is here to release some of your tension.
Asa Butterfield stars as Otis, a 16-year-old just trying to stay under the radar, but his sex therapist mother, Jean (played by a fabulous Gillian Anderson) gives him anxiety. A house full of phallic statues and Kama Sutra paintings could make any kid groan in embarrassment. While everyone at his school seems to be obsessed with finally getting into someone else’s pants, Otis is disgusted with the idea of masturbation and enjoying sex himself–something his best friend Eric (Ncuti Gatwa) doesn’t understand.
Otis begins to gain more attention when he starts doling out sex advice to the desperate and horny members of his class. When Maeve (Emma Mackey), Otis’ crush from afar, approaches him about talking to other people he jumps at the chance so he can spend more time with her. Butterfield’s kind eyes and quietness allow Otis to be approachable and nonthreatening, and people quickly open up to him. Each episode starts with troubled teens dealing with their own issues before they find Otis for a conversation. It shows how sex is ultimately tricky and often silly. Teenagers fall off beds and accidentally hurt themselves as they hurtle toward honing their sexual prowess.
While Sex Education deals with common tribulations from high school (crushes and hiding your feelings), there is an openness to it that feels refreshing. There are some storylines about bullying (a picture of a girl’s vagina is threatened to become public in crucial Gossip Girl fashion) and feeling unwanted, but the teens in the school don’t hurl judgement at one another. These kids feel more sexually curious and open about finding out what gets themselves off, and there isn’t a lot of shaming going around. Maybe we are evolving as humans? Or perhaps it’s just America that has more concentrated paranoia when it comes to sex and self-discovery.
Butterfield’s brings a genuine sweetness to Otis that makes you root for him and his clinic to do well. He gets to be more independent when he’s away from Anderson, but their scenes together are so winning. Sometimes audiences put Anderson in a serious actress, costume-y, prestige box, but we shouldn’t forget how funny she can be. Jean is only trying to help her son, but she doesn’t realize that speaking to him like a patient is even more embarrassing and cringe-worthy. When Otis stages a post-masturbation scene for Jean to discover, she calls him on it. It’s one of the weirdest and funniest ways I’ve ever seen a teen try to connect with his or her parent. With her tuft of short grey hair and clipped dialect, I could watch Anderson’s Jean on a loop for hours. Anderson is brilliant.
The other teenagers should be given credit as well. Maeve is intelligent and takes no bull from anyone. When she begins dating a star swimmer, Mackey (who is the spitting image of Margot Robbie) infuses a feeling of unworthiness into Maeve that she struggles to hide. There could be an entirely different show about Eric and him coming to terms with his sexuality. His fabulousness is ready to burst through for the first half of episodes, and it’s wonderful when he breaks free. Connor Swindells, as the bully son of the headmaster, is going to be your next bad boy crush. He’s brooding and douchey in the best possible way.
Sex Education succeeds because of its cast and its writing. Maybe if we all accept how scary and stupid sex can be, it would demystify it. This new comedy embraces the awkwardness and horror. Lean into those hormones and binge, people!
All episodes of Sex Education are available on January 11, 2019.