Netflix has done it again with its new hit show, ‘Sex Education’.
‘Sex Education’ introduces us to Otis, a socially-awkward and sexually-repressed 16-year-old who lives with his mum, Jean, a sex and relationships therapist.
Despite his own lack of experience, Otis winds up inadvertently following in his mum’s footsteps for his schoolmates, after helping someone through a rather mortifying sexual problem with a bit of advice he picked up from his mum.
Already a hit with viewers and critics alike, the show has sparked a lot of conversation online, and if you’re yet to tune in, this is why it’s already proved so popular...
1. The aesthetic
The first thing we have to say about ‘Sex Education’ is that it looks great. The entire show has a total’ 80s vibe to it (it took us a full 20 minutes into the first episode to realise that it isn’t actually set in the ‘80s), from the fashion to the technology and reference points. This means that compared to other contemporary shows that centre around young people, the episodes not going to feel dated when you watch them back in a year or so. Even the characters’ names – including Otis, Eric, Maeve and Ruby – don’t feel specific to a time period.
Most of the action takes place at lead character Otis’ house, or the high school which, despite being obviously set in the UK, has a distinctly American feel to it, with its pastel-coloured lockers, expansive ‘Breakfast Club’-esque corridors and lack of school uniform. Already not placed in a set time period, this means ‘Sex Education’ is also not stuck in one already-existing location, so when you watch it, you don’t end up getting too hung up on local geography.
“It’s very much a bold stylistic choice,” actor Alistair Petrie told ‘BUILD’. “And it works, it is its own world, which people are invited to step into.”
2. The impressive young cast
Another way ‘Sex Education’ manages not to distract us is by casting mostly unknown actors as the show’s younger characters. You might recognise leading man Asa Butterfield from his childhood turns in ‘Hugo’ or ‘The Boy In The Striped Pyjamas’, but almost everyone else from the main cast can boast ‘Sex Education’ is among their first on-screen appearances.
Both Emma Mackey and Ncuti Gatwa, who play Maeve and Eric, only had a handful of small TV roles before landing their parts in ‘Sex Education’, and the same applies to Connor Swindells (Adam), while for Aimee Lou Wood (Aimee), this is her first time acting on screen.
3. The show is encouragingly diverse
The great thing about a show that’s forward-thinking in its attitude to sex is that it’s also ahead of the curve in terms of its on-screen representation. The show features an array of young stars from different ethnic backgrounds, while also showcasing a number of different narratives around LGBT+ themes, including experimentation with gender, same-sex attraction and the subversion of stereotypes.
4. And, of course, we have to give a shout out to Gillian Anderson
Yes, she’s already proved to be a big draw for many early ‘Sex Education’ fans, so you probably don’t need us to tell you how good she is.
But honestly, she really is exceptional.
“She’s very giving as an actor,” co-star Connor Swindells told ‘BUILD’ of working with the legendary actress. “It’s nice when people take the time to be like that when they really don’t have to. I’m no one, so she could have blanked me the whole time, but she didn’t.”
5. The soundtrack
Despite its strong ’80s aesthetic, ‘Sex Education’ does give away a few subtle nods to the fact its set nearer the present, with Snapchat, Pornhub and modern currency.
Its soundtrack does feature a number of throwback to decades gone by, including A-ha’s ‘Take On Me’, The Smiths’ ‘Asleep’ and Billy Idol’s ‘Dancing With Myself’ (you can work out for yourself when that one makes it in).
There are also a few more modern offerings, from artists including Beth Ditto, Grizzly Bear and Ezra Furman, a US singer/songwriter whose music crops up at poignant moments throughout the series.
6. Sex talk
Yeah, you could probably work this out from the title, but ‘Sex Education’ really should be commended for its frank conversations around sex, particularly for a show that revolves around teenagers and young people.
It’s often played for laughs, yes, but as Connor Swindells points out, there’s quite often a little bit more going on than you might initially think.
“A lot of the time, all these sexual problems, they’re actually mirroring other problems,” he explained. “So I think, you’re actually talking about those other things, rather than an erect penis or viagra or scampi. It’s just a chance to talk about the deeper stuff, but in a crude way.”
7. Embarrassing teenage moments
Not since ‘The Inbetweeners’ has a British show about teenagers been so cringe-inducing in its relatability.
True, we don’t recall ever having an urn containing someone’s cremated grandmother smashed over our heads, or having a fellow student expose themselves in the cafeteria so everyone would stop comparing their genitals to a Coke can. But in Sex Education’s less extreme scenes, we’ve had a fair few “yep, been there” moments while we watched, and we doubt we’re the only ones.
8. The heart
But for every slapstick gross-out moment, or over-the-top sexual reference, there’ll be a genuinely heart-warming scene. Yes, ‘Sex Education’ is about so much more than what the name would suggest, with each episode seeing Otis and the people that surround him navigating unlikely friendships, difficult family relationships and finding out who they really are at a difficult time in everyone’s lives.
“When I first read it, it took me straight back to being 17,” Alistair has said. “And it made me laugh and wince and all the rest of it… and as adults, we’re still trying to figure out who the hell we are, we’re just a little better at hiding it.”
‘Sex Education’ is now streaming on Netflix.