TL;DR – This is a show that deals with sex and sexuality in a very frank and refreshing way which you will find endlessly engaging or very off-putting
Score – 4 out of 5 stars
There are some shows that are irreverent for no reason other than the fact that cheap humour gets looks, so pitching your show at the lowest common denominator is a good business model. The crassness has no reason to be there bar being a punchline for people to awkwardly laugh about. However, once in a while you get a show that goes through all the different sex jokes you can have, and indeed it starts with a montage about someone discovering masturbation, however, not once is it about playing it low but instead, it finds a voice for those who don’t quite know how to express each other.
So to set the scene, at the end of last season everything at Moordale Secondary School was in a state of flux with Adam (Connor Swindells) being sent away to military school, Maeve (Emma Mackey) has been expelled, and while Otis (Asa Butterfield) final finds someone to love him back with Ola (Patricia Allison) but it comes at the expense of his one true love Maeve. In the time since Otis has discovered how to achieve release, Maeve has started work in a local mall to get by, Eric (Ncuti Gatwa) has developed a crush on the new kid Rahim (Sami Outalbali), and Otis’ mum Jean (Gillian Anderson) is still seeing Ola’s father Jakob (Mikael Persbrandt) even though they had told their kids that they had broken up. Which is the perfect storm for a chlamydia outbreak to cause the school to fall into a state of chaos. Now we will be looking at the season as a whole, so there may be some [SPOILERS] ahead.
There is a lot we could talk about, and a lot of those words could just be about Jean’s excellent collection of pantsuits. But I first want to start with how this season deals with some very complex and important issues and manages to give them the depth they need. For Maeve, one of the big issues this season is that her mum Erin (Anne-Marie Duff) has arrived back on the scene. She is a recovering narcotics addict and Maeve does not want to have anything to do with her because of years of lies and failure as a parent. Over the season they chart a new course that causes both Maeve and Erin to revaluate parts of their lives but it ends in Maeve having to make one of the most difficult choices in her life where she has to think of others no matter the personal cost and it is a huge personal cost. There is also Amiee (Aimee Lou Wood) who while on a bus ride to school is sexually assaulted, she initially plays it off but Maeve insists on taking her to the police. Amiee insists it is no big thing, but it is, it is an act that profoundly changes her life and the show explores it with the care it needs.
Indeed, as the show progresses throughout the season there is an ebb and flow of everyone’s lives as the status quo slowly gets eroded away till chaos reigns. After the chlamydia outbreak Maxine (T’Nia Miller), the chair of the school board askes Jean to come to the school and update their sex-ed curriculum. This spills into Otis’s life when she starts taking all the students that would usually come to him to help. But it also puts Jean on a collision course with Michael Groff (Alistair Petrie), the headmaster at Moordale Secondary School, He resents her being there because he sees her as an attack on his management of the school, which is only amplified more when he discovers that his wife Maureen (Samantha Spiro) has been going to Jean for advice. I don’t think I have ever been like ‘yep you people should get a divorce’ before but when Maureen dropped that particular bombshell I was like ‘yep dump his ungrateful arse.’ This, of course, has flow-on effects of its own as Michael seeks revenge, but while there is a lot that happens, it was really touching to see how it was used to bring the core group of girls in the show together to realise that they had more power being supportive of each other than tearing each other down.
This is also a show that laughs at others when they say that diversity is difficult by having one of the largest and diverse supporting casts that I have seen in a while where all of them are interesting and fleshed out characters, okay maybe not Jeffrey (Joe Wilkinson) who is mostly a twat, but everyone one else. Like Jackson (Kedar Williams-Stirling), who is under so much pressure at school that he starts to self-harm as a way of trying to escape his world. Throughout the season he becomes friends with his tutor Vivienne “Viv” Odesanya (Chinenye Ezeudu) who helps him find worth in himself even if that changes his place in the school and with his mothers. This is a show that explores sex, religion, race, gender, power dynamics, class, and more and never makes it feel cheap at any time.
It is also a show that is full of these moments that will either endear itself to you or make it really off-putting. For example, the opening masturbation montage feels like it is there mostly as a litmus test because if you stick around after the car, then you are there for the long haul. While last season had a lot of references to Shakespeare, this season that goes from the subtext to the text when they put on a play of Romeo and Juliet full of very explicit phallic imagery. Which was delightfully amusing to watch as all the parents and teachers sit down to watch it for the first time. Also, I am here for all the subtle 10 Things I Hate About You references across the season. At first, I was not sure, there were all these moments that had me go ‘wait are they … no, that’s just a coincidence’ and then the party happened and I had to doff my hat at Eric bringing the cheese platter.
On this note, props to the musical department for finding some of the best songs out there as accompaniment. Also, there is a scene in the last episode where Gillian Anderson gives some of the most powerful acting I have seen in a while and she better be nominated for awards because of it. It also has to be said, that I do appreciate the shows commitment to being both set in 2020 and the 1980s all at the same time and being okay with that dichotomy.
In the end, do we recommend the second season of Sex Education? Well, look. This is a show that opens with a five-minute montage about someone discovering masturbation and frankly, I think you know if this is a show for you based on that alone. For me, it is the characters and their stories that dragged me in and I do hope we get a third season.
By Brian MacNamara: You can follow Brian on Twitter Here, when he’s not chatting about Movies and TV, he’ll be talking about International Relations, or the Solar System.
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Credits – All images were created by the cast, crew, and production companies of Sex Education
Directed by – Ben Taylor, Sophie Goodhart & Alice Seabright,
Written by – Laurie Nunn, Mawaan Rizwan, Sophie Goodhart, Rosie Jones & Richard Gadd
Created by – Laurie Nunn
Production/Distribution Companies – Eleven Film & Netflix
Starring – Asa Butterfield, Gillian Anderson, Ncuti Gatwa, Emma Mackey, Connor Swindells, Kedar Williams-Stirling, Alistair Petrie, Mimi Keene, Aimee Lou Wood, Chaneil Kular, Simone Ashley, Tanya Reynolds, Mikael Persbrandt, Patricia Allison, James Purefoy, Sami Outalbali, Chinenye Ezeudu & Anne-Marie Duff with Jim Howick, Rakhee Thakrar, Lisa Palfrey, Samantha Spiro, Hannah Waddingham, Sharon Duncan-Brewster, Joe Wilkinson, Chris Jenks, Doreene Blackstock, T’Nia Miller, George Somner, George Robinson, George Georgiou, Lino Facioli & Stephen Fry