Ahead of the release of Netflix’s much-awaited Sex Education, let’s take a look at what makes this British comedy series a pathbreaking one
When Sex Education was first released, on Netflix in 2019, this British comedy was perceived – by its first look – as a story of horny teenagers trying to steer clear to adulthood. But one should never judge a book by its cover. Such was the case with this series as well.
One of Netflix’s biggest British hits, the show is much more than just an American Pie sort of sex comedy. Instead, it depicts real situations that teenagers face when they hit puberty. The situations they created were real – from the sex scenes, to the conversations to the sensitive issues this show dealt with – all of them were far from sensational or grotesque. “If you feel nervous or anxious about it, then it’s going to come across on screen. And it’s so absurd, what we do. You just have a laugh about it,” said Asa Butterfield (who plays the protagonist Otis), in an interview with The Guardian.
Cut to 2021: Sex Education has achieved success worldwide, and after two back-to-back seasons – its fans are waiting with baited breath for the third one, which is all set to premiere on September 17. So, what makes the show much-loved and appreciated – worldwide, and even in a prudish country like India?
Sex education, created by Laurei Nunn and produced by Jon Jennings, is the story of a teenage boy Otis who lives with his single mother Jean (Gillian Anderson) — who is a sexologist by profession. For someone like Otis, who has grown up in an environment were talking or discussing sex isn’t a taboo – he gets into the business as a novice sex therapist in his high school, discreetly – with the help of his friends.
The show has a prolific ensemble who have done justice to their characters. Be it Otis (Asa Butterfield), or his best friend Eric (Ncuti Gatwa) or love interest Meave (Emma Mackey), among others, have received immense love from the fans all over the world. The way they have been shown in a humane light, even when they make mistakes or do things which are morally wrong – one can still find it hard to not love them.
Each of these characters have been given a strong background story – which makes them even more real in reel. Though, the way they deal with their sexual problems is just a part of their lives – it’s not all what they are about or what the show depicts. Eric is gay, and loves makeup and dressing up. But living life on his own terms is a huge challenge because of his orthodox parents. Similarly, Maeve is emotionally distant because of her past, and how she has learnt to be independent from a very young age.
The tone of the show is quirky, flamboyant, honest and retro – a unique combo that gives it a feel-good factor. Even when it speaks about serious issues like homosexuality, molestation, abuse, disability or identity crisis – it does so in a way that doesn’t come across as harsh or brutal or tragic. The comic tone of the show is used to show how life can be taken seriously and yet not so seriously – at the same time. Also, the cultural diversity in the show also gives it a global appeal.
Friendship is also a primary theme of the show. Not only Otis and Eric, but the bond Meave shares with Aimee, or the one Ola had with Adam — they all redefined teenage friendships. One of the most heartwarming scenes in the show is when Meave, Ola and the other girls showed their solidarity to Aimee (who was molested in a bus on her way to school) by taking the bus ride together one day to drive away her fear.
Last, but not the least, things that are considered taboo or something that can’t be discussed openly – like the problems teens face in their sex life – has been shown with utmost precision and without making it gross or caricature-ish or erotic. That requires effort and talent, technical and otherwise. Plus, the camaraderie that the cast shared with one another also is a big factor behind the show’s successful portrayal.
“Because at some point, we are all teenagers, and we all have one version of the experience of teenager-hood which gets addressed within the scope of the show. It’s been a while since we’ve had coming-of-age movies that are quite so raw and brazen. So, whether it’s the adults who now see it in retrospect, or the kids who are watching it through their own fingers, almost, and going through their own experiences… It feels like a human show, in that it makes space for every version of human there is on this planet. And I think people feel seen and heard and celebrated in a way that is quite unique,” summed up the show’s casting director Lauren Evans in an interview with The Guardian.
(Cover: Poster of Sex Education Season 3 // Credit: Instagram)