“Sex Education” premiered in mid-January, and by February 1st it had taken the internet by storm, become the talk of the virtual town, and been renewed for another season. And there’s a reason. This show is sensational. It somehow manages to relate to an absurdly wide array of issues without falling into the regular superficial tropes and models of modern TV. It’s touchingly honest and sweet in one scene, deadly serious the next, and hilariously funny right afterward. It turns awkward teen moments into works of art. If you haven’t watched it yet, I’d head over to Netflix and cancel your afternoon plans right away.
The premise of the show is straightforward enough. Our hero, Otis, is starting high school and just wants to make it through without too much embarrassment. “I don’t want to be popular,” he tells his best friend, Eric, “I just want to be a guy in the corner that no-one knows!” But we all know that’s not how high school works. He quickly finds himself dispensing sex and relationship advice to his peers, managed by an enterprising classmate, Maeve, and drawing on things he’s learned from his mother, Jean, an actual sex therapist.
Here’s a breakdown of why, in my humble opinion, this show is the most empowering and heartening thing to happen to TV since the gals in “Orange is the New Black” broke through the fence at the end of season three.
Let’s Talk About Masturbation
One main theme of “Sex Education” is how positive masturbation is. Otis, the main character, struggles throughout the show to push through his psychological barriers and climax, while his best friend chides him and encourages him to work it out. In Episode 6, when Aimee, a classmate of Otis’, doesn’t know what she likes about sex (because no boys have ever tried to please her!), Otis advises her to go home and spend some time with herself and figure it out. What follows is a celebration of the female orgasm and all the ways to get there. Take notes, folks.
My Body My Choice
This comes through on every level in the show. Whether it’s Jean blithely telling men she’s slept with, “I’m not interested in dating anyone, I’m very busy with work and raising my son,” or Maeve taking herself to get an abortion in Episode 3 and ignoring the protestors outside, or the sci-fi role-play fantasies that Lily (another classmate) yearns to realize, this show screams, “You do you! Your body is your choice!” Nothing is too weird or unconventional, everyone has their own preference on how to do what they want, and all of it is completely acceptable. I’m a child of the ‘90s who grew up surrounded by cis-het sexuality of one very bland flavor, and this message on a mainstream show feels like a miracle.
Everything About Maeve Wiley
Maeve’s character embodies the meaning of the word empowerment. She’s a powerhouse and a scrappy entrepreneur who is all alone but refuses to feel sorry for herself. Instead, knowing that she’s smarter than most people around her, she’s finding solutions to her problems. Brilliantly, this doesn’t mean that she’s a two-dimensional character defined by her toughness. She’s also vulnerable and needs help (even though she’d never admit it) and we can tell that she wishes she could be recognized for her ideas instead of having to sell them to make rent. Maeve is the unattainable girl everyone wishes they could figure out, but she struggles with her own self-worth. Relatable and inspirational as hell.
Gays in the Mainstream!
Let’s just start with Eric, Otis’ best friend. Proudly, flamboyantly gay (although he struggles with his family’s lack of acceptance), his sexuality is never questioned, explained, fetishized, or otherwise told through a hetero lens as is so often the case. And he’s not a token, either. This show has gays everywhere, just like in real life. There’s the lesbian couple in episode 4, seeking out advice on their waning passion in bed; and Jackson, a star athlete and arguably the most popular boy in school, has two moms. He refers to them as his parents, and no big reveal is offered. Some kids have two moms and it’s not a big deal. The most unattainable in-crowd in the school is led by another gay kid, Anwar. When Otis says, disparagingly, to Eric, “Just because [Anwar] is the only other gay in our year doesn’t mean you have to fancy him.” Eric jumps in, “Correction. Only other gay we know of. Could be anywhere.” Cheers to that, man. We are everywhere.
An Actually Diverse Cast!
Shows with a truly multicultural cast are few and far between. We all know the deal – the cast will be mostly white, cis, hetero and there will be maybe one Asian person, one Black person, and maybe one gay person. Forget about gender fluidity, that’s way too much to expect. Just say thank you for your cookie-cutter representation and move on, weirdos.
That playbook gets thrown right out the proverbial window in “Sex Education.” The show’s writers don’t bother to explain or make excuses about the ethnicities of the characters, and there’s no token anybody. Eric is black. Anwar is South Asian, as is Olivia, another main member of the popular clique. Jackson is black, as is one of his moms, and Jakob (Jean’s lover/plumber) is white and Swedish with a black daughter (who shows up in a tux to the school dance). And that’s only the tip of the iceberg. It’s a genuinely multicultural cast, and the idea behind that is pretty clear. The world is a diverse place, let’s treat that as a normal thing. ‘Cause it is.
“Sex Education” is a breath of fresh air, a complex look at the many and varied coming of age sagas that exist (acknowledging the fact that we can come of age at all ages). Each character is treated with respect and depth, all painfully, beautifully human. We all have growing to do, fears, insecurities, and complicated relationships with our pasts and presents. This show is about celebrating all of that, not hiding or dumbing it down. The writers have faith that viewers will be able to handle intricate truths and situations and that comes through spectacularly. This show is of the messy reality that is our world. Sometimes it’s heartbreaking, sometimes it’s awkward, sometimes it’s hilarious. It’s life, and it’s about damn time we had a TV show that displays it in all of its chaotic glory.