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Here’s why Netflix’s Sex Education looks ‘American’

Sex Education, the new Netflix comedy, is a splendid delight with an optimistically refreshing view of love and relationships in the teen drama genre.  

The show’s premise seems outlandish; it focuses on the character Otis (Asa Butterfield), a socially inept virgin whose overbearing mother is a sex therapist. Otis teams up with Maeve (Emma Mackey), a street smart bad-girl who capitalises on Otis’ therapist flare to advise fellow high schoolers about their sex problems. Despite the show being a teen coming-of-age comedy, it’s delightfully refreshing and representative of a wide range of issues plaguing the younger generations. The show doesn’t shy away from representing conflicting sexual identities, complicated family issues and millennial frustrations.  

The show, while set in the modern era, has an aesthetic more aligned to 80’s American high school dramas. The 80’s aesthetic is a very deliberate stylistic choice and one that is intrinsic to what makes the show so appealing. The show’s creator Laurie Dunn has stated she chose this particular mise-en-scene was to reference 80’s movies such as Pretty in Pink and Sixteen Candles, which are universally loved and iconic amongst fans of teen dramas. Additionally, the idea behind Sex Education is to suspend the show and its characters in an ‘other’ place, the plots and characters are not cemented in one decade or even country location, which is what makes them so relatable.  The entire aesthetic of the show is a nostalgic nod to American High School films while adding a British, contemporary twist, something that marks Sex Education out amongst recent coming-of-age dramas.

It marks a blissful optimism for anyone watching, that their parents will also accept them for who they are – that staying true to yourself even in the face of hate is the test of real strength.

A particular highlight in Sex Education is the character of Eric (Ncuti Gatwa). Eric is Otis’ best friend, he is hilarious and lighthearted, progressing much of the narrative of the show as he pushes Otis out of his shell. Eric faces many hardships, especially discrimination by fellow school students for his sexuality. Eric is a refreshing character as he avoids any stereotyping being the ‘gay best friend’ through his multidimensional characterisation, especially in concerns to his relationship with his father. What I particularly loved about Eric’s story is that his father loved him unconditionally, but was worried for his son facing any discrimination or violence towards him because of his sexuality. It marks a blissful optimism for anyone watching, that their parents will also accept them for who they are – that staying true to yourself even in the face of hate is the test of real strength.

In a world saturated with an emphasis on sex, especially in teen dramas, it is refreshing for a show to destigmatise a concept that ultimately doesn’t exist.  

Sex Education has a lot of positive messages for its audience. Primarily targeted at a teenage demographic, it not only talks about sex but also shows that not having had sexual relations need not be a thing of shame. In most teen dramas of late, the focus has very much been about beautiful students hooking up with one another. Sex Education is entirely refreshing because it focuses’ on realistic characters, who are as awkward and average as most high schoolers. A standout moment that promotes positivity and destigmatises virginity amongst sexually rampant teenagers is the exchange with Otis and Tanya (Lily Iglehart). Lily is a social outcast who enjoys writing alien Literotica and is obsessed with sex, despite being a virgin. The overarching series narrative is Lily’s quest to lose her virginity, applying such an intense value to it that she is fearful and saddened her peers will judge her for her lack of experience. The series ends with her and Otis acknowledging that losing one’s virginity is not the ultimate goal, and that remaining celibate at High school shouldn’t be a source of shame. In a world saturated with an emphasis on sex, especially in teen dramas, it is refreshing for a show to destigmatise a concept that ultimately doesn’t exist.  

Overall, Sex Education is an astounding drama that I urge you all to watch. Its characters are multidimensional and diverse without being stereotyped. Moreover, the show is aesthetically beautiful, the bright costume colour palette alongside establishing shots of the beautiful English countryside is a treat for the eyes. It would appear that Netflix is continuing to produce stellar content and I for one can’t wait for a second series.

 

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