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Overcoming Sexual Hang-Ups: A Review Of The Netflix Original Series "Sex Education"

Now streaming on Netflix (launched last January 11) is a hilarious coming of age comedy series that pulls the lid off the teenage obsession with their raging hormones. It’s called Sex Education, and its eight episodes are set in a high school that’s located in England (actually a picturesque valley in Wales) but looks and feels like an academic institution you’d find in the Pacific Northwest or upstate New York—chalk that up to Netflix and their savvy aspirational and global approach to programming and marketing.

 

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The series stars Asa Butterfield (I still remember him In Scorsese’s Hugo, but now all grown up, and 6 feet tall) as Otis Milburn, our unofficial guide to the mixed-up, awkward world of adolescence and one’s sexual awakening. To complicate matters, he’s the virgin son of a sexually active, single mom who happens to be the local sex therapist. Jean Milburn is played by Gillian Anderson, and it’s wonderful to see her in this offbeat role, a far cry from her Scully in the X-Files.

Each episode starts off with a strong sexually-charged vignette, which no doubt had the censors scurrying to stamp a 16+ rating, when what follows is actually much more whimsical, textured, and tender-hearted than that first impression. Even when there is sex, it’s done with a frank honesty that’s both endearing, and laughter-inducing as we recall our early stumbles and hang-ups about sex. There’s a sincere attempt to depict teenage sex in all its fumbling, glorious glory. And smartly, it recognizes how each person will develop and mature in his or her own pace and time.

 

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Asa Butterfield, Gillian Anderson
 

The driving force behind the series’ narrative is Otis being cajoled by cool-school rebel Maeve (Emma Mackey, who looks like a teenage Margot Robbie from Suicide Squad) to copycat his Mom, and be a sex guru for the students at school. And of course, this is all part of a ploy to charge and make some money. On this, they are ably (not) assisted by Otis’ best friend, the entertaining Eric (Ncuti Gatwa), who happens to be black and gay, and is our desperately seeking validity and social acceptance character.

 

Emma Mackey, Asa Butterfield
 

What’s smart about the whole series and what should appeal to the older among us is how the series is purposely designed to be a tribute to the films of John Hughes (Pretty in Pink, Breakfast Club, and so on). But there are twists and inversions made to update the concept, like how the character often played by Judd Nelson, the rebellious schemer, is now a girl, Maeve. And instead of having a girl (Molly Ringwald) play the awkward virgin, it’s now our main character, Otis.

 



Disarming, smartly humorous, and downright funny and entertaining, there’s much to love about Sex Education. And don’t look now, but while the milieu may be high school and adolescence, the subject matter of hang-ups about sexuality and relationships has a much broader application, and this series could just as well be about us.


Photos courtesy of Netflix