Julia Brookes questions the buzz surrounding the British comedy - drama...
Before we start, I know. I’m behind the times. I always am when it comes to TV. I’d seen the first two seasons of Sex Education but by the time the third season came out last year, I’d forgotten the plot and quite frankly didn’t have the time to watch the new episodes as well as recapping the old. But when the announcement of filming for Season 4 coincided with a bout of the flu last week, I found myself compelled to catch up. The political documentaries I was urging myself to watch in order to ‘feel productive’ weren’t quite hitting the spot. Before I knew it I’d watched the whole of season 3 in two days. This could be why I don’t watch TV normally: a total and utter lack of being able to stop after just one episode. Or maybe it was more to do with the show I was watching.
After it’s first two seasons Netflix original ‘Sex Education’ became huge. I didn’t realise how mainstream it had become until I was walking past billboards for it and coming across the stars in magazines. Even my mum who has never heard of anything was asking me if I’d seen it. Given the tumultuous year and a half between the release of Season Two (January 2020) and Season Three (September 2021), when my housemates began raving about the new episodes, I began to question whether it was even that good. I remembered the moving bus scene and the consistently brilliant way the show dealt with traditionally taboo subjects. But I also remembered the beyond ridiculous school play at the end of the previous season and how the show seemed to lose its realism. Even the fact that, despite being set in in the rainy Southwest of England, it is NEVER raining seemed to irk me. I took pleasure in not watching the third season when it came out, there is a certain smugness one has in not watching what everyone is talking about. A cynicism you don’t find elsewhere. I began to label Sex Education as overhyped in my head. But when I inhaled the series last week, I began to realise, or maybe just remember, that the show is worthy of its hype. Don’t get me wrong, it is ridiculous. It even appears to be becoming more so as the writers try to keep a fairly basic plot interesting before their characters inevitably have to finish school. The magic mushroom - poo in a sock - leaving kids behind school trip to France was absurd from start to finish. The public shaming of troublesome students coupled with a student/headteacher cat fight seemed unplausible. The goat in science class was icing on the top of a very unrealistic cake. But this unrealism is coupled with on the nose realism at every turn which is how the show gets away with its nonsensical plot. I am always impressed by how brilliantly it deals with extremely difficult issues. In this season we saw the introduction of two non-binary characters, Cal and Layla, and their continuous everyday difficulties were shown subtly but tactically. Scenes and dialogue caught me off guard in their pertinence. Where some scenes were making me shake my head with farcical plot points other scenes were taking my breath away. The therapy scene between Jean and Aimee was a brilliant combination of utterly simplistic but utterly harrowing.
‘I don’t like the way my body feels, I don’t like looking at it and I don’t like my boyfriend touching it anymore.’ I felt that. Grounded dialogue between Jackson and Cal on the topic of anxiety had me smiling at the screen. I related to them. I felt heard by them. Sex Education is ridiculous. Its continuity is laughable. Half the plot points are preposterous. But it keeps you watching because of the realism interwoven with the insanity. It deals with scary and alienating topics in a comfortable, easy, and yet serious manner. It deals with these topics within the eyes of youth. How they manifest in everyday lives, not how they take form in a case study or a newspaper. It makes the topics and conversations human and real. And it is for that reason, I will keep coming back to watch it. It may, for now, be worth its hype.
Words: Julia Brookes