Sex Education is good, a lot of good. His second season is a much-needed euphoric interlude. Our spoiler-free review.
“The world is going bad. “With these words, Netflix CEO Reed Hastings began his speech on Friday, January 17, 2020 at the inauguration of the new Paris office of the subscription video-on-demand platform. “But fiction can help,” he continued.
Hours earlier, Netflix had posted the entire second season of Sex Education online, just as a thoughtful dealer would offer a smiling face to its most loyal customers. It’s on the house; take this, and everything will be better. Because watching the British series is like watching a warm, relaxing and colourful mist, where nothing can hurt us anymore. Now that the atrocities of the world have been put on hold, we can only be overwhelmed by compassion, gentleness and sincerity. And who could be serene enough to resist the call of appeasement?
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Gillian Anderson in Sex Education // Source: Netflix
Sex Education is about sex, of course, but it’s mostly about love. Self-love, first of all, like these students who stand up one after the other in a silent amphitheatre to praise the listening skills of Jean Milburn (Gillian Anderson), a passionate sexologist, who has reassured one about the size of her vulva lips, the other about the fact that he has the right, yes, to experiment onanism with fruit.
Of love for others, too, whereas fictional clichés would have it that a series set in a high school is necessarily obsessed with clan fighting and petty filth. Here, teenagers are attentive, curious and intrigued by the Other. This does not mean that self-hatred is not at the heart of these two seasons; this detestation that emerges from a capitalist system where identity is forged in the rejection of what one should not be, and which de facto pushes all those who have nothing to reject to the bench of society.
The first season of the original Netflix series written by writer Laurie Nunn, focused on Otis Milburn, a tall, white, straight, middle-class boy, the son of the well-known sexologist, realizing that he could use the knowledge he’d absorbed from his mother’s contact with her to advise his schoolmates – and pocket a small bill in the process. After the critical and popular success of the first part, the second part no longer needed such a well-defined story – one that was almost redundant, with new students at each episode who wanted to be sufficiently in line with the norm to finally realize that there is no norm.
Now, the series can rely almost entirely on its panel of resplendent characters. And that’s not a euphemism; some people die on the screen, starting with Ncuti Gatwa far, so far away from the outdated clichés of the exuberant sidekick simply there to fill the void of a smooth hero. The actor who plays Eric is both fragile and assertive, funny, by what he does, not by who he is. At the other end of the spectrum is Adam (Connor Swindells), sent to a military camp by his father, Adam the good-for-nothing, who takes the full field of the camera no matter where he is. He is always lying there, falsely phlegmatic, like a rock on which queer waves break, and gently accepts that his barriers are eroding.
The hero Otis, who inherits the least thrilling storyline, is almost a vessel that transports us through the journeys, worries and rejoicing of his comrades, as if he had finally decided to completely embrace his role as a guide, in retreat, to let others shine.
Connor Swindells in Sex Education // Source: Netflix
With this unique series, Netflix has pulled off a clever move: merging the quality of production with the neo-liberal instincts of a platform that now seeks more to maximize the potential of its original content than to take unnecessary risks. Thus, it will not escape anyone that Sex Education is a screaming series. Take the test: select any scene and count the number of people in the colourful clothes and fluorescent objects in each shot. And we don’t even mention the beautiful sunny shots of the Wye Valley, a natural paradise on the border between Wales and England where the series was shot.
These staging arrangements happen to be exactly what Netflix is looking for in the production of its original series which should best suit smartphone viewing practices – scenes with lots of light, color, close-ups, etc. – and which are also very much in line with the latest technology. Very skillfully here, this choice contributes to anchor the world of Sex Education in a spatio-temporal zone apart, a kind of enclave of tolerance sheltered from the world-who-is-wrong.
The problem, and yet its greatest quality, is that Sex Education is a hard drug, a euphoric parenthesis that doesn’t last – the 8 episodes of the second season are swallowed up without anyone noticing. And the descent can be hard, so hard to get out of the mind that another society is possible, where tolerance is not considered an insult, and political correctness does not raise suspicion and shake with snubbed lips.
Where sex can be ubiquitous without being a tool of oppression – internalized or not – where sex can be fun and fulfilling, where sex can be right there, within reach (insert your favourite gravelly joke), not as a standardized entity but as a gigantic toy box, in which anyone can pick at will, take one object, take two, or ten, put them down, lend them, show them, change their mind, don’t touch them, come back to them later.
It is obvious that the didactic scope of the Netflix series will have incredible virtues on young audiences, for whom this liberating speech may not have the bitter aftertaste that it leaves in the mouths of older people. A deaf sense of immense waste, an acute awareness of the slowness of change, and an underlying question that resonates over and over again: why is it so difficult to do good?
Sex Education, season 1 and 2, is available on Netflix France
Indicative note: 5/5
After a first season of great quality, the British series Sex Education takes on a whole new dimension with a second part that is pure and breathtakingly simple.
- Sublime actors
- The omnipresent benevolence
- A huge toy chest to explore
- The world is still going wrong