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Sex Education: a horny and morally good teen classic

On paper it should have been a disaster, but the second season of Netflix’s high-school drama is more than the sum of its parts.

On the prowl… Asa Butterfield and Ncuti Gatwa in Sex Education. Photograph: Netflix

Idon’t want to get all “surveillance state” about it but I’m pretty sure Netflix is on to us re: what we all do, in front of it, relentlessly, and is now commissioning TV appropriately. That’s the only explanation for Sex, Explained (Janelle Monáe-narrated PSHE-lesson-but-make-it-fun series where a bunch of hip young nose-ring Americans stare into a well-lit studio camera and say “spanking”) and Sex Education (second series of the bizarre English-but-make-it-American high-school sex counselling drama) dropping in the same miserable winter month.

I don’t know if Netflix can “see” us exactly, but if it can, and if they are commissioning based on the sheer concept of Netflix & Chill as a result, I’d appreciate them deleting the footage they took of me on 1 June last year in front of, inexplicably, two episodes of Rick and Morty.

Anyway, to Sex Education (from Friday, Netflix), which, on paper, is a disaster. Every attempt to describe it makes it so much worse than it is: a high school-based ensemble drama that deals head-on with Teen Issues, set in a sort of ageless period between 1970 and 2020 that makes you genuinely jolt when someone pulls a laptop out, with episodes that are frequently punctuated by glee band covers, and – and I cannot stress both how weird this is and how unacknowledged it is – is set in a sort of British parody of an American high school, with varsity jackets and teachers-as-friends and stuff like that.

The main characters are Nervous Boy (Asa Butterfield), Tough Girl Who Reads Books But Isn’t Afraid To Flip The Bird (Emma Mackey), Gay Best Friend With A Heart Of Gold And Complicated Struggles (Ncuti Gatwa) and then a roving cast of characters around them – Conflicted Bully, Anxiety Jock, Turbo-Horny Nerd Girl, Gleaming-Haired Popularity Queens, Headmaster With A Chocolate Addiction – and the entire concept is that our nervous boy, Otis, has become the school’s de facto sex education guru after learning so much from the straightforward therapising of his actual sex counsellor mother, Gillian Anderson (Open-Minded Mum With Sexy Wise Owl Energy). And everyone is like: “OK. We’ll go and visit the nervous virgin boy in the bathroom and tell him we’re afraid of anuses.” Everyone does that. Like it’s normal.

But somewhere between the descriptive paragraph and the screen some unseen alchemy happens, because Sex Education is brilliant: smart, woke without clanging you over the head with it, about teens but not only for teens, funny, aesthetically rich, and dramatic but without the usual drama of teen-set TV, where someone is always trashing a bedroom then sliding down a bathroom door crying because of an unplanned pregnancy. Series two shows early signs of picking up exactly where the first one left off: getting the old gang back together, STI panic across the school, a stellar selection of on-screen vintage jacketing and an incredibly visceral cumshot.

Again: this is a show that has sprays of ejaculate in it, but somehow manages to be wholesomely horny and morally good. A TV miracle.

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