The first season of Sex Education was a sweet comedy about high school teenagers exploring their sexuality. In season two, the teens continue to make sexual discoveries. The difference is that this time, the show offers deeper insights into relationships and comments on contemporary issues.
Directors: Sophie Goodhart, Alice Seabright
Writers: Laurie Nunn, Sophie Goodhart, Mawaan Rizwan
Cast: Asa Butterfield, Gillian Anderson, Emma Mackey, Ncuti Gatwa
Streaming on: Netflix
Twice the awkwardness, twice the drama
Season one introduced us to Otis Milburn (Asa Butterfield), a lovable, awkward teenager at Moordale Secondary School, who doles out sex and romantic advice to his classmates. This time, he must confront his own struggles. Having discovered the joys of masturbation towards the end of the previous season, Otis finds himself unable to control his urge to indulge in it all the time. This lands him in some pretty awkward situations. Moreover, his general lack of confidence and a constant case of nerves make it difficult for him to get intimate with his new girlfriend, Ola Nyman (Patricia Allison). Making matters worse between Otis and Ola is the presence of Maeve Wiley (Emma Mackey) at school. Otis’ friend and business partner, she clearly has feelings for him.
Otis isn’t the only one caught in a love triangle. His best friend Eric Effoing (Ncuti Gatwa) catches the attention of Rahim (Sami Outalbali), the good-looking new student at Moordale while Adam Groff (Connor Swindells), with whom Eric shared an intimate moment in the previous season, returns home from military school. Gatwa does a wonderful job playing the loud and openly gay Eric, providing generous amounts of humour.
There’s drama playing out in the adult sphere too. In a hilariously embarrassing scene, Otis and Ola discover that his mum Jean (Gillian Anderson) and her father Jakob (Mikael Persbrandt) have been secretly seeing each other. Otis doesn’t take to this kindly.
Happily, we see a lot more of Gillian Anderson
It was perhaps Anderson’s popularity in the first season that led the makers to give her a meatier role this time around. She’s terrific as the dryly humorous Jean, who’s entrusted with the task of redesigning the sex education curriculum at Moordale following an outbreak of chlamydia at the school. Her presence in the school leads students to approach her for sexual advice, and she unknowingly becomes Otis’ competitor.
Her role isn’t restricted to being Otis’ sex therapist mother. We see her dealing with her own commitment issues, and working on the tricky relationship she shares with her adolescent son. She also strikes up an unlikely friendship with Maureen Groff (Samantha Spiro), headmaster Groff’s wife.
The show gets serious over parenting and sexual violence
One of the most remarkable qualities of Sex Education has been the fact that it doesn’t perpetuate stereotypes. A straight white boy has a gay black best friend. Eric’s devout Catholic family proudly embraces his homosexuality. The unnamed town in which the show is set is a model of diversity. People of all religions, ethnicity and sexual orientations cohabit peacefully here.
In the second season, the makers do one better by shedding light on issues such as parenting and sexual violence. We get an insight into Maeve’s unfortunate childhood with the arrival of her mother Erin (Anne-Marie Duff), a recovering drug addict. Maeve is the character we’re constantly rooting for, a bright student desperately trying to make a mark while fending for herself and dealing with troubled family life. Emma Mackey is once again impressive in portraying one of the most complicated characters in the show. Jackson Marchetti (Kedar Williams-Stirling) too must deal with difficult parents. Moordale’s star swimmer, Jackson realises he doesn’t want to swim anymore. But his taskmaster of a mother isn’t likely to take kindly to the idea. Meanwhile, Adam Groff grapples with his toxic relationship with his father (Alistair Petrie), whereas his mother deals with her own sexual needs.
The most attention-grabbing story is that of Aimee Gibbs (Aimee Lou Wood), Maeve’s sweet but dim best friend who is sexually assaulted on a public bus. While she brushes the incident off initially, she later struggles to deal with the trauma. In one of the most heartwarming moments of the season, a group of girl students, including Aimee, bond over their experiences of sexual assault and talk about female solidarity.