Critipeg: Sex Education

“Episode One,” streaming on Netflix, ★★★★☆ 1/2

The Netflix original series Sex Education is a teen drama and sex comedy that follows teenagers Otis Milburn (Asa Butterfield) and Maeve Wiley (Emma Mackey) as they run a sex-advice business at their school.

The pilot episode of Sex Education is entertaining, but also refreshing.

To start, the show features an ensemble cast of eccentric teens that more or less fulfill a few common high-school character archetypes. For instance, there’s a bully, a troubled punky girl, and the protagonist is an awkward, shy teen boy.

Impressively, however, the show avoids a common pitfall seen in a lot of teen dramas: the characters are not shallow, stereotypical caricatures.

Right off the bat, each character is shown to have depth and nuance beyond their initial tropes. The pilot does well in establishing interesting backstories that no doubt will be explored in later episodes.

Plus, the characters are very well-acted and an overall joy to watch. Each one is distinct from each other and charming in their own way. Not to mention there are two prominent BIPOC and gay characters – Ncuti Gatwa as Eric Effiong and Chaneil Kular as Anwar – who’re introduced early in the episode.

For representation’s sake alone, it’s great to see queer and BIPOC characters. What’s even better is neither character is tokenized. It’s almost difficult to praise a show for being inclusive in 2021, since, by now, this should be the norm. Nonetheless, it’s good to see.

But the main draw of the show is its subject matter: sex.

True to its name, Sex Education is educational and informative. Lessons about sex are skillfully written in a way that’s direct, simple and relevant to the plot – and include anything from anatomy to addressing harmful stigmas.

Beyond its more informative moments, the show does well in representing the emotional vulnerability that comes with sex and sexual insecurities. This is done through the stories and specific sexual problems of the characters.

In the pilot episode, the high-school bully, Adam Groff (Connor Swindells), is troubled by his impotence. He winds up talking to Milburn about his issues and receives some much-needed help and perspective on his problem.

The moment where Groff opens up about his problems is comedic while also packing a huge emotional punch. The humour and the drama are balanced well in that scene, but, best of all, the comedy is not done at the expense of the characters’ sexual struggles. At no point is Groff’s impotence shamed or mocked. 

Basically, the pilot episode of Sex Education definitely needs to be watched. Beyond its praiseworthy writing and acting, it cannot be overstated how wonderful it is to see a show tackling sex in a direct and informative way. That in and of itself is impressive and worth a watch. 

Published in Volume 75, Number 22 of The Uniter (March 18, 2021)

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