“The show remains one of the most diverse, wide-ranging and honest depictions of teenagehood and all its intricacies”.
The first season of Sex Education, the Netflix series which explores our most embarrassing anxieties about sex and intimacy with acerbic wit and relatability, was an instant hit. The assertion that popular kid Adam Groff’s penis was the size of “two Coke cans put together” became common parlance in my group of friends; everyone on social media was talking about the show. An extremely diverse cast – including child star Asa Butterfield as our awkward protagonist (Otis), The X-Files icon Gillian Anderson (a.k.a. Agent Scully) as his sex therapist mother, and newcomers Ncuti Gatwa and Aimee Lou Woud – introduced us to characters we all knew from our own lives, while subverting the teen TV show and film stereotypes we’re used to seeing.
So, after the announcement of a second season sparked attention from all corners of the internet, fans were eager to see how this season of one of the most binge-worthy shows of recent years would square up to its explosive entrance. While not as saturated by intricate storylines as its first season, the second is a similarly heartfelt, affecting and clever collection of episodes which perfectly set up a premise for (possibly multiple) further seasons.
The first season of the show – spoilers – left a multitude of questions unanswered: Maeve (Emma Mackey) finally came to terms with her feelings for Otis and geared up to tell him, before witnessing him kissing new girlfriend Ola (Patricia Allison); Eric (Gatwa) and his long-time bully Adam (Connor Swindells) had shared an unexpected moment of intimacy before the latter was sent off to military camp; Jackson (Kedar Williams-Stirling) was left heartbroken by Maeve, while his sporting career was left uncertain. As a new term at Moordale begins, Otis and Ola are dating, as are their respective parents, Jean (Anderson) and Jakob (Mikael Persbrandt), while Eric attracts the attention of a striking and mysterious new boy, Rahim (Sami Outalbali). Maeve’s mum, Erin (Anne Marie Duff) returns with her young daughter Elsie in tow, forcing Maeve to confront her feelings of resentment after years of disappointment and abandonment.
While the separate, intertwining plot points come to a head with more of a slow burn than before, this gives us time to get to know the established characters even better, while introducing new cast members that serve to further complicate their lives. For instance, Eric must grapple with his feelings for Adam while also navigating his new relationship with Rahim, while Jean’s storyline allows us a deeper insight into the emotions she rarely lets anyone see.
As with the first season, Adam grapples with his sexuality under the clutches of his distant yet oppressive father and, to its fault, the series harbours an arguably unwarranted level of affection for the man who relentlessly bullied Eric for years (and, as lots of people have pointed out, the storyline of a homophobe who actually has repressed feelings for the same gender, which somehow excuses their previous behaviour, is slightly tired at this point). Themes of overbearing parents also crop up, with head boy and talented swimmer Jackson suffering even more from his anxiety.
However, this time there’s a new character, Viv (Chinenye Ezeudu), who he forms a heartwarming friendship with as she helps him confront his parents about the overwhelming pressure they put on him. As Maeve finally opens up to her friends, comes to terms with her feelings and learns to trust her family again, there are tender scenes of sisterly and maternal love; again, she’s offered more space to explore the different facets of her personality, as themes touched on in the first season open up and become more crucial here. And while female solidarity was referenced in the “It’s my vagina!” scene from season one – where the majority of Moordale sixth form proudly announced that the nude being sent around the school belonged to them, diminishing the shame that ‘revenge porn’ facilitates – this theme is strengthened in a particularly important narrative strain across season two. After Aimee is the victim of a sexual assault and struggles with anxiety and flashbacks in the aftermath, some of the girls share their own experiences of unwanted sexual attention, discovering that one of the only things that they all have in common is the ubiquitous nature of gender-based harassment. Catcalling, groping and unsolicited dick pics unite these women, and in turn, every woman who has experienced something similar (so, every woman) will feel an unspoken connection to the stories that, unfortunately, are all too familiar.
Having said this, the more emotional scenes don’t tug on your heartstrings quite as much as they once did. The ingenuity of Sex Education is that deeply affecting, difficult or confronting scenes are laced together with exactly the right sort of humour and lighter moments, meaning that you may be sobbing one minute and laughing out loud the next. While this season features many opportunities for tears, mostly through the complicated family dynamics present in many of the characters’ lives, perhaps there is too quick a jump to hilariously cringe-inducing or awkward scene for us to fully immerse ourselves in the more sincere emotions on display. But that’s not to say that the deeper moments don’t hit you hard, or that the comedy ever strays into triviality.
The show remains one of the most diverse, wide-ranging and honest depictions of teenage-hood and all its intricacies; considering its popularity, hopefully it will pave the way for more of the same. For now, this season’s finale – somehow hilarious, heartwarming and devastating all at once – confirms that Sex Education will continue to provide us with the wisdom and humour that we needed when we were teens.
Directed by: Ben Taylor, Kate Herron, Sophie Goodhart, Alice Seabright
Produced by: Jon Jennings
Cast: Asa Butterfield, Emma Mackey, Ncuti Gatwa, Gillian Anderson, Patricia Allison, Kedar Williams-Stirling, Aimee Lou Wood, Connor Swindells, Anne Marie Duff
Available on: Netflix