Sex Education: Series 1 (Netflix) — a review

People I love have told me that I’m terrible at keeping secrets.

This isn’t true. In fact, I’m excellent at keeping secrets. I have a couple that I’ll take to the grave with me, in fact. Your hair would instantly turn white if I told you my secrets.

No, that’s a lie.

At this point, I doubt I have anything that I’ve kept secret. The reason why I have a reputation of being a bad secret-keeper is that I forget that something’s supposed to be a secret. Then, I’ll find the worst possible time to blurt out the secret, usually in a casual group setting and always in front of the person who asked me to keep the secret. This has happened to me (and to the people who trusted me to keep a secret, I suppose) often enough that I’ve become convinced that my brain is pranking me.

Is it crazy to believe that my brain and this voice in my head that I consider to be “me” are two separate entities? It is? Then never mind.

This is the first review I’ve written for Sex Education, a wonderful series I’ve watched on Netflix. However, I’ve mentioned the series in perhaps six other posts I’ve had on this site. Always for different reasons. Because I was discussing Gillian Anderson’s work on The X-Files or The Crown, comparing it to her role on Sex Education. Or, because I mentioned the performance of young star Asa Butterfield being one of the few things I liked about the movie Ender’s Game. Or, because I was guessing that there were many commonalities between American and British schools and the experiences of teenagers of similar ages, using this series as an example while discussing Dazed and Confused.

I like this series—that’s not a secret. Good thing, because I’m obviously terrible at keeping secrets.

It didn’t seem like the sort of show that I would like, though. Netflix is amazing at trying to market a movie or series based upon the viewer’s personal tastes. I don’t know if I was singled out for this series or if it was a blanket push to all Netflix users. It was a British production, of course. I’m an admitted Anglophile, and Netflix may have an algorithm that reminds them about that fact about me. But, it was yet another series focused on teenagers and the main topic of discussion on the show—according to both the series title and the trailers—seemed to be sex.

No. It seemed creepy to me for a man my age to be watching a teenage sex romp. Even a British one. I wasn’t interested.

Then, I watched the movie Ender’s Game. Don’t look for a review of this science-fiction movie from me on this site. I didn’t waste my time writing one. You want a review? How about, “This movie, based on the novel by Orson Scott Card, has some good effects, but the story seems thin and a bit overdone. The one thing about Ender’s Game that I can recommend, without rancor or sarcasm, is the performance of its young star, Asa Butterfield. This actor elevates the anemic script and inconsistent direction. He’s one to watch.”

When I saw that a more recent version of Butterfield was starring in Sex Education, I considered watching the series. When I saw that Gillian Anderson was playing his mother, I made the decision to take the series on a test drive.

One episode, and I was hooked.

Only you know if anything I just said makes Sex Education appeal to you. If it was the phrase teenage sex romp, then at least have the good taste to be an actual teenager.

This series is equal parts hilarious, poignant, and—believe it or not—informative.

Here’s the premise. Otis Milburn (Asa Butterfield) is a teenager attending Moordale Secondary School whose mother, Dr. Jean Milburn (Gillian Anderson) is a well-known sex therapist. In fact, his father Remi Milburn (James Purefoy, in a recurring role) is a therapist as well. Jean and Remi are divorced, and Remi lives in America with his new family.

Otis has some sexual hangups himself, probably because of all the sex-talk he had to hear while growing up. This doesn’t stop him from giving another student sexual advice, even though Otis is still a virgin. This is the way Otis becomes an unofficial teenage sex therapist at his school. A fellow student, Maeve Wiley (Emma Mackey), a misfit, rebel and all-around bad girl, sees a way to monetize Otis’ therapy gig. Maeve lives in what’s known as a caravan park in the UK—what we would call a trailer park on this side of the pond. As we soon find out, she’s living on her own, paying her own bills by writing papers for other students and, eventually, as Otis’ pimp and manager.

Potential love interest? What do you think?

Otis has a best friend in Eric Effiong (Ncuti Gatwa). Eric is openly gay, and he comes from a religious Ghanaian-Nigerian family who seems to know and accept this. This depiction of a non-romantic friendship between a gay and straight male is refreshing.

Other characters who get their own arcs in this series:

Jackson Marchetti (Kedar Williams-Stirling), Moordale head boy (analogous to a class president in the US, I think) and swim team star, is also romantically involved with Maeve.

Michael Groff (Alistair Petrie) is the headmaster at Moordale. His son Adam (Connor Swindells) also attends Moordale, and the father-and-son relationship is explored some this season.

Lily Inglehart (Tanya Reynolds) is another classmate who creates alien-themed erotica and is driven to lose her virginity.

There are plenty of other familiar archetypes. Bullies, mean girls, jocks, rich kids, and the like. This British secondary school felt a lot like an American high school to me. It turns out that this was deliberate. The show’s aesthetic was an intentional mashup of UK secondary and US high schools, in an homage to the ’80s films of John Hughes.

This is a show about relationships in general. Of course, romantic relationships figure predominately in this, but it also includes relationships with parents, exes, and platonic friendships. Yes, there is a lot of sex talk, which you expected, but if your only interest in this program is prurient, you will probably be disappointed. If you’ve avoided watching this because you feel that you’ve aged out of its demographic, don’t despair. The “adults” on this show are also given meaty plotlines.

I have liked this show a lot so far. I would categorize it as a dramedy, I think. There’s some great performances from most of the actors on this show, students and adults alike. While Series 1 has only eight episodes, each episode is densely packed with story and potential alternate plotlines.

Firewater’s Your-Generation-is-So-Touchy-Information-is-Empowering Report Card: A

Series 1 and 2 are already up on Netflix, and a third series has been greenlit. Something else to look forward to.

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