Netflix’s “Sex Education” teeters between awkwardness and true sexual revelation, and unlike some might think, it truly glows.
“Sex Education,” created by Laurie Nunn, stars Asa Butterfield, of “Ender’s Game” fame, as Otis Milburn, a sexually repressed, British teenager who has trouble dealing with all forms of sexual contact. Milburn’s mother Jean, played by Gillian Anderson, is a sex therapist who has trouble meddling in her son’s affairs. Ironically enough, Otis discovers that because of his unusual upbringing, he has an uncanny knack for weeding out sexual dysfunction and articulately providing a solution to his classmates, despite his obvious social anxieties. He and business-minded friend Maeve Wiley, played by French-British Emma Mackey, start a “sex clinic” for their sex-troubled classmates.
The primary selling point of the show is its sincere educational value. The show makes leaps and bounds to show how the current system of sex education affects high school students, both good and bad. For example, in the first episode, once Otis’ gift of impromptu therapy is revealed, Maeve goes around listing off their classmates’ particular issues, primarily because Otis is too socially insecure, but also to provide a clear picture of what the modern teenager is dealing with. The peer pressure exemplified in the show feels so real to the point where a watcher of the show can start to feel vicariously uncomfortable, in a good way, though.
The portrayal of awkward teenage years is perfectly exemplified by Asa Butterfield. Oblivious to the script, the 21-year old actor makes the character of Otis feel so realistic, most likely because Butterfield had just left those years himself. Otis’ movements are rigid and look completely improvised. When he is given a jocular shove, he falls over in a flurry of flailing arms and uneasy utterances. The performance immerses the audience because we relate to Otis. Not specifically to his mental peril caused by his mother’s occupation, but to the idea of not having anything figured out.
The sexual elements of the show are actually quite background compared to the other features of the show. The “sex clinic” plotline is used merely as a vehicle to tell drama from a point of view that is not often told: the view of the sex-aware virgin. The character who gets caught up in the peer pressure to have sex and battles with his own personal journey.
The comical irony that evolves out of a reluctant, sexually-repressed teenager being the son of a promiscuous therapist specializing is stretched to the maximum. Their relationship is another element that just feels so real. They play a sort of metaphorical cat-and-mouse game, going round and round in family gymnastics. Jean will inquire about Otis’ personal life, Otis redraws back feeling violated, Jean sees the error of her ways, rinse, repeat.
Netflix has a hit a gold pocket of British television in producing “Sex Education,” especially because it is one of the streaming services first entirely in-house British style dramatic comedy. Many sources are referring to it as an instant classic, and this critic absolutely agrees. “Sex Education” receives a perfect score: a 100-percent rating.