From the ever-reliable Netflix comes a new series with a surprisingly good following. Sex Education sets itself up for failure, with a crass name reminiscent of previous endeavours: Sex Tape, Sex Ed, Sex Drive… designed to lure in a young and impressionable crowd whose intentions were all but to kick back and actually think. The cycle of thought that accompanies this is simple. It’s just about sex… a no-brainer, right?
Sex Education, however, smashes that cycle and pretty much everything else.
When you see the title, you go in with certain expectations that the majority of the series will be sex. That’s somewhat true. In six out of eight of the episodes that compose the first series, the opening scene is always that; some sort of (usually graphic) sexual scenario, a picture of genitalia, or, with the one and only exception, a scene of a young lad’s homemade confession cake being destroyed. All of which cater to the perversions of a modern audience.
But here’s the thing… it isn’t about sex… that much. The series is quite deep, touching on the usual themes of gender, sexual orientation, and relationships themselves, but more so centring around the construct of identity itself. The main character, Otis, for example, is presented initially as a sexually repressed teenager who feels himself straggling behind others of his age. He self-identifies as ‘the kid in the corner’; his home behaviour of avoiding emotional connection to his mother, and childhood practice of watching while out of sight, is copied through to school where he attempts to avoid acknowledgement by (and emotional connection to) most of his peers. By the end of the series, however, he changes, developing his own identity as a sex therapist to his fellow students and improving both his self-worth and confidence.
This is an interesting choice of plot. In some ways this self-identity is not his, but one that Otis mirrored from his mother, a licensed sex therapist. In becoming more like her, he can learn to accept her, and himself, with greater ease. With Eric, Otis’ best friend and a member of the LGBTQ+ community, the same can be said. In returning to his parents and their way of life at the church, he is able visualise a life of colour and acceptance for the first time since his character took a beating for nothing more than dressing in a way that expressed his sexuality. In both cases, the reversion to the parental self is held as a pin to self-identity and freedom.
Those coming to this series for an insight into the awkward realities of sex and relationships will not be disappointed. However, this series goes deeper. It asks an audience: Who are you, really? It shuns the traditional optimistic expectations of love. It makes us laugh at the pointlessness of our own unrequited self, or lack of a fixed self. As Otis summarises wonderfully,
‘Love isn’t about the moon and the stars, it’s about dumb luck.’
Sounds like everything else.