Sex Education Matures into a Wholesome Ensemble Comedy in Second Season
In theory, Sex Education is about Otis Milburn, a mild-mannered sixteen year old boy who dispenses sex advice to his high school classmates for a fee. But in practice, it’s also about a wider range of characters, that include his mother Jean Milburn (Gillian Anderson), who’s a professional sexual therapist, his previous crush Maeve Wiley (Emma Mackey) who’s trying to rebuild her life after being expelled and best friend Eric (Ncuti Gatwa) who’s dealing with feelings for both Adam (who used to be his bully) and the mysterious new Rahim (Sami Outalbali). The second season is a noticeable improvement over the already solid first season (which we also reviewed last year).
The second season expands the narrative beyond Otis, further fleshing out the well-realized characters. Both students and adults explore topics such as bisexuality, asexuality, consent and even platonic friendships. Otis tries to navigate through his relationship with his new girlfriend, Ola (Patricia Allison) while dealing with his lingering feelings for Maeve. He soon finds a new rival in Isaac (George Robinson), a well-meaning neighbor with his own physical and emotional scars.
Sex Education is loaded with familiar tropes and situations, and in theory, it shouldn’t work as well as it does. They often invoke the feeling of John Hughes’ movies, such as a Breakfast Club-esque scene where the girls get to bond with each other and share stories about sexual harassment. Of course, sometimes the familiarity does lead to moments of predictability. Almost all the relationships in the second season suffer rocky detours. With Maeve and Otis in particular, it seems that they are never in the right mood for each other.
Still, the show’s expansion into being an ensemble comedy works more often than not. There are various themes at play with each character’s arc; with Jackson, for instance, it’s about handling parental expectations and one’s own passions, while with Maeve it’s about trying to trust her mother after a long line of betrayals and let downs.
Of particular note is how the show handles sisterhood and other forms of relationship between women.
Aimee, for instance, gets psychologically scarred after a man masturbates on her jeans on a bus. She feels unsafe not only on buses, but also in other public environments, because if ‘a man with a kind face’ could have done it, then so could anyone else. Once she shares this story with other girls, Maeve and the others accompany her to the bus stop and get onboard the bus, reassuring her that she wasn’t alone. The relationship between Lily and Ola also evolves throughout the season, and the way it works out feels both realistic and euphoric.
There’s also the outlandish rendition of Romeo and Juliet that we see during the finale, complete with genital hands and heads and explicit lyrics that underlines the sexual tension as much as the romance. It ends with romantic epiphanies for two characters, and heartbreak for one.
The journey Otis takes is a lot more conventional than his fellow classmates, but he works as the core of the show, especially due to the dynamic relationship he has with his mother. Jean also gets a lot more to do in the second season, and her antagonistic relationship with principal Groff also takes some unexpectedly petty turns.
Just like the students, the show’s narrative is maturing, becoming both wholesome and complex.
It tackles its issues with compassion and playfulness, and of course, it’s also very entertaining, which is no mean feat considering the themes it’s juggling.