Living in a small town in the UK with his divorced, sex therapist mother, Otis (Asa Butterfield) must overcome his own sexual issues and phobias while serving as his school’s unofficial relationship guru.
Through Otis’ fellow schoolmates and clients, the show deals with traditional issues like social pressure to lose virginity, sexual anxiety, emotional trauma from previous relationships or family life, as well as more modern ones like LGBTQ acceptance, sexting and revenge porn.
The tumultuous relationships of his clients frequently comes off more as entertainment, like a good case in an episode of “House M.D.,” but it’s the lives of Otis, his best friend and only openly gay student, Eric, (Ncuti Gatwa) and his business partner and social pariah Maeve (Emma Mackey) that carries the show.
Like the rest of the characters’ relationships, the show attempts to, and often successfully, honestly dissect the litany of issues that our trio are burdened by. On occasion, the schmaltzy, rom-com tropes do appear, but it never fully takes you out of the moment, due primarily to the performances of the three actors.
Along with elevating those traditional rom-com moments to something that resonates emotionally, “Sex Education” also subverts what could be seen as the villain or romantic rivals for our main characters into complex characters.
Specifically the character of school bully and principal’s son Adam (Connor Swindells) and star athlete and best-boy Jackson (Kedar Williams-Stirling), who could have easily been written as caricatures of the high school equivalent of the mustache-twirling villain instead becoming just as captivating as our other three main characters.
Despite the nuanced characters and well-structured episodes that keep enthralled for the episode, the show does have some flaws.
Otis often feels like he has a superpower to always say the right things at the exactly the right time, except when it comes to his own issues, but that complaint seems unavoidable for what is essentially a doctor or medical procedural show.
Like the flaw tied to the medical genre trope, there is often an over-reliance on music that seems too loud in the sound mixing. But over the season, that became less and less noticeable.
A fusion of the 2007 film “Charlie Bartlett” and the original British version of “Skins”, “Sex Education” tells an honest and modern story encapsulated in a 1980s aesthetic that is reminiscent of “Fast Times at Ridgemont High”. The show, while pretty explicit along with the honesty, promotes a healthier and more accepting perspective that young adults and parents could use as a starting point for a more open dialogue about a significant and intrinsic part of life that often goes undiscussed.