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Sex Education Season 2 – Review

Personally I’m in complete support of a roast chicken at a house party.

If the point of Sex Education season one was the importance of communication for young people muddling their way through the fog of puberty and sex, then season two is about how to transcend the physical and foster genuine connection.

This time around the show tackles a similar oeuvre of calamities – generally sex related, whilst dabbling in faith, addiction, and mental health – but doubles down on its darker subplots. Whilst certain issues from the last season are resolved (resulting in one of the most graphic and hilarious opening montages I’ve ever seen) most character’s trauma is built and expanded upon, and some characters are given shiny new problems to deal with.

Already having established the bulk of its ensemble cast, its primary episode sets a furious pace. Characters flung away from the central action by last season’s finale spend initial screen-time working their way into more convenient narrative positions.

Whilst Maeve’s (Emma Mackey) reenrolment at Mooredale Secondary and Adam’s (Connor Swindells) eviction from military school somewhat take the wind out of last season’s dramatic climax, the former introduces us to one of the season’s most satisfying cast additions (Maeve’s mum Erin, played by Anne-Marie Duff) and the latter is handled deftly, amplifying the audience’s sympathy for Adam and his inability to catch a break.

These early patch jobs are the first of many moments where you catch an unintended glimpse at the writing seams binding these plotlines together. Individually, each subplot is well handled, with some managing to be genuinely touching and poignant, but in the hurry to ensure that each lead character and the moral imperative of each arc shines through, certain B characters are left underdeveloped and some narrative transitions feel contrived.

The dreamboat French transfer student Rahim (Sami Outalbali) is given some extremely lacklustre character development, and the showrunners clearly can’t wait to clumsily write their way out of the unconvincing romance between protagonist Otis (Asa Butterfield) and the clearly non-straight Ola (Patricia Allison).

The show somewhat maintains its ‘monster of the week’ formula from last season, cycling through a range of sexual hang-ups and less explored proclivities this time through Otis’ sex therapist mum Jean (played to perfection by Gillian Anderson) who takes up a sexual health counselling role at the school.

The conceit that lands her that role is forced – you can google how chlamydia is contracted – and some of the cases she deals with feel like box ticking. It’s almost as if the writers began with a checklist of ‘issues’ they’d tackle this season – asexuality, pansexuality, bisexuality, consent under the influence etc. – and refused to chuck any on the cutting room floor despite them having no natural place.

Whilst I wish this season of Sex Education had spent a little more time fleshing out the relationships audiences were familiar with, like Otis and Maeve, instead of introducing pointless new characters (hi I’m Florence, asexuality exists, okay bye), I still thoroughly enjoyed my viewing experience. And, truth be told, devoured the whole eight-episode season in 24 hours like a greedy kid on Halloween.

Sex Education pulls off cliché better than any show I’ve ever watched. This season was full of them – the jock who abandons his sports career for the stage, said jock befriending the school nerd, a Breakfast Club homage, the school outcast learning teamwork and carrying the quiz team to victory – and these are just a few. But, through a combination of genuinely funny, sensitive writing, and some serious chemistry amongst the cast, I found myself viewing these classic tropes through new eyes.

Sex Education takes a strained dramatic construction, like the aesthetically perfect mixed-race, same-sex couple, and interrogates it on a deeper level. Just because Jackson’s parents have the ideal #woke 21st century family doesn’t mean their marriage is functional. Moreover, a newly introduced wheelchair bound character isn’t billed as an ‘uplifting inspiration’, but is constructed with humour, complexity, and some seriously assholeish tendencies.

This show has lofty ambitions. It aims to cut away an entire forest of received wisdom about sex, human communication, and relationships. And it does so with a sense of revelry and optimism which keeps even the more depressing storylines afloat – including poor Maeve, who is still searching for her happy ending.

Even the most explicit material seems sweet and charming rather than gross or prurient. Key to this is its visual tone, drawn from the American coming-of-age movies that saturated cinema in the eighties. Moordale Secondary is a land of bright colours, wide corridors, and acapella groups.

This surreal glossiness is displayed self-consciously as both a joke and a cloak. Sex Education is aware of how unsubtle it is, and it uses its in-your-face-ness to occasionally sneak nuance by you. The slow reveal throughout episode two that Amy has been traumatised by her sexual assault is doubly effective for how little you’re expecting it.

This show is a schooling not just in sex, but in comedy. It’s clear that the actors and writers have worked together tirelessly to construct characters and build interactions that translate believably on screen. The relationships are both completely unique, and entirely relatable.

Every moment of conflict, heartbreak, and friendship is representative of the universal quest for connection. And that’s why I love this show. It performs the same function in our lives that Dr. Jean Mulburn performs for the students at Moordale Secondary: a reminder that no matter how messed up we think we are, we’re probably entirely normal.

4
out of 5

Still the most whimsical delight on Netflix

Changes the formula from the first season just enough to keep it interesting

 

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