Sex Education season 2 review: Netflix’s breakout romantic comedy continues to quietly push boundaries, without ever compromising on warmth and humour.
Sex Education – Season 2
Cast – Asa Butterfield, Emma Mackey, Ncuti Gatwa, Connor Swindells, Aimee Lou Wood, Gillian Anderson
It’s not about the years of experience you have, but the experiences you have in those years.- A wise man (probably woman)
Netflix’s quietly revolutionary romantic comedy series, Sex Education, in its second season breaks more boundaries than the first. But the most admirable thing about the show, like the always-resourceful Dr Milburn, isn’t what it’s saying, but how it’s saying those things.
For instance, there are more same-sex couples in season two than there are straight couples. Sex Education also happens to be one of the most successful shows on the air to be created and predominantly written by women. And unlike most shows about millennials, finding your partner’s G-spot would be easier than spotting an iPhone in any of its eight episodes.
Watch the Sex Education season 2 trailer here:
Like the phenomenal season one, Sex Education is rarely, if ever, about sex. It’s far more preoccupied with themes such as childhood trauma, parental abandonment, and a loss of identity. This might not sound like fun, but the show has such a breezy tone, and the characters are so warmly endearing, that even scenes that would have been too grim to swallow otherwise, are relatively easy to digest.
Compared to the recent HBO drama Euphoria, which told the stories of similarly broken teenagers but with an almost fantastical edge, and the classic UK show Skins, which frequently traded in its typically lighthearted tone in favour of brutal realism, Sex Education balances humour and horrors with uncommon maturity.
Take, for instance, the character of Maeve Wiley. Even though her mum is in and out of rehab, and she has no adult guardian to speak of, she’s able to attend school and go about her business. Maeve is neither a drop-out nor a delinquent. She’s able to make droll statements about life and death without drastically altering the tone of the show. And when her friend Aimee wishes her a happy birthday, Maeve demands to know what she should be celebrating: “Being pushed out of a random vagina against my will?”
Meave, as played by the magnificent Emma Mackey, continues to be the most intriguing character in the show, which once again twists audience expectations by largely sidelining Otis (Asa Butterfield), whom we’d all assumed was our protagonist. Call it patriarchal conditioning or pure misdirection, but Otis being reduced to a mostly passive role in the second season comes as a bit of a surprise. He spends almost the entirety of the season in grave conflict.
Having been rejected by Maeve at the end of the last season, he finds himself in a deeply awkward and altogether unsatisfactory relationship with Ola. They can’t even get to second base, let alone have sex. And meanwhile, Maeve is struggling to accept her dormant feelings for him, feelings that she’d refused to acknowledge or act upon at the right time.
It’s a classic will-they-won’t-they set-up, and Sex Education seems to be in the mood to milk this dynamic for at least a few more seasons. But for all the ground it breaks thematically, it sort of short-changes several of its supporting characters, with the exception of Aimee (Aimee Lou Wood), through whom the show addresses themes of sexual assault and trauma in a typically sensitive manner.
I can only wish that in those future seasons, it’s kinder to Eric (Ncuti Gatwa) and Adam (Connor Swindells). They’re largely sidelined in season two, despite their parallel tracks being one of the more compelling storylines of season one. Remember that terrific episode in which Eric is forced to confront his identity as a gay man? Remember the empathy that the show was able to wrench out of you towards the misunderstood bully Adam? Season two has very little of that.
It is, instead, an opportunity for Sex Education to fly the nest. No longer bound by parental restrictions, so to speak, it chooses to broaden its horizons and look outward. But now that the initial jitters are out of the way, and we’ve settled into a comfortable relationship with it, neither of us must let complacency set in.