Youth comedies are having a bit of a renaissance these days. After the likes of Skins and Misfits dominated the screens in the 2000s, the genre fell from grace a little after becoming a little overexposed. Of course, teen shows are an American staple still. The CW’s Riverdale is probably the most popular example of trashy teen soap still on the air, but they usually lack the grit that characterised the British examples mentioned above. Enter Sex Education in 2018, a reinvigoration of the misfit teen comedy approach, with a sex-obsessed twist. It was light, refreshing, funny and most of heartfelt. It was an undeniable hit for Netflix and a burst of nostalgia for those shows gone by.
Season 2 was an inevitability, but what wasn’t guaranteed was how well the show would turn from a surface comedy about sex therapy to a show which defined itself so much with representation. Much has changed within society and the discussions surrounding whose stories get to be told in the last decade, and this season of Sex Education feels like the manifesto going forward for presenting the many facets of 2020 society.
The premise follows on from the first season. Otis (Asa Butterfield) has developed his sex therapy business at school whilst also pursuing his own love life and following the relationships of his friends around them. But somehow in eight hour long episodes, Sex Education covers a gay love triangle, inter-racial relationships, pansexuality, asexuality, sexual assault, divorce, STDs, closeted homosexuality, ableism and a slew of other themes. It’s a show that forms its stories around the marginalised in society, while championing enough to make their stories central, and not simply side plots like other shows would relegate them to. Season 1 presented Otis and Maeve (the fabulous Emma Mackey) to be the “will they won’t they” straight white couple that we’ve come to expect, but season 2 relegates them to a more equal role to other characters. We care just as much if not more about the blossoming relationships between Eric (Ncuti Gatwa) and Adam (Connor Swindells) and the wonderfully weird pairing of Ola (Patricia Allison) and Lily (Tanya Reynolds). The end of the season does set up season 3 (which will almost definitely happen) to focus more on the Otis-Maeve dynamic, but season 2 was a refreshing break from the centricity of that storyline.
What wasn’t absent from the season however was an abundance of laughs, thanks to both great writers and excellent young acting talent. Particular standouts in the cast include Gatwa who continues to be a comedic highlight, Gillian Anderson (always a pro) as Otis’ sex therapist mother, and newcomer Chinenye Ezeudu as the awkward brain-box Viv who also happens to be an amazing friend. These actors are provided with an abundance of funny lines of course, utilising them to their fullest extent.
That’s not to say that the show is entirely unique. Some plot points are derivative of similar stories, but what makes Sex Education dynamic is the way it transplants familiar material into today’s diverse consciousness. It gives characters who never would have received what we deem as “cliche” stories the arcs which their straight white counterparts have had for years. Consider the show a compensation for years of marginalisation and the first step to a much more interesting and representative future in television.