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“Sex Education” on Netflix

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The prevailing thought is that today’s plugged-in, world-at-their-fingertips kids are so exposed to sex that they’re basically over the whole experience. Too much knowledge can sometimes be a dangerous thing. The British-made, Netflix-distributed series “Sex Education” basically reinvents the teen sex comedy by turning it into an opportunity to analyze modern teenage hangups about sex—and by extension, the hangups of Western Civilization in general.

Set in a middle-class British suburb, the show introduces awkward teen Otis Milburn (Asa Butterfield from Hugo). Despite being in his junior year of high school, Otis remains a socially awkward virgin. Most of this can be traced to the fact that his single mother (Gillian Anderson, who is now permanently British) is a well-known sex therapist. Open and honest to a fault—not to mention sleeping with a different man almost every night—she’s exposed her son to every in-and-out (so to speak) of sex. As a result Otis is terminally jaded about sex. Thanks to mom’s TMI, the poor kid can’t even masturbate.

Returning to school after a long summer, Otis and his best (gay) mate Eric (Ncuti Gatwa) are shocked to see that hormones have gone into overdrive and that every one of their classmates seems to making the beast with two backs. But this sudden burst of teenage lust brings with it a host of problems. Thanks to the easy accessibility of the internet, today’s teens are aware of just about every sexual fetish under the sun. (“Just go to PornHub,” notes one learned teen. “You can watch a CGI demon fuck a horse.”) But that hasn’t necessarily prepared them for the various pressures and emotions surrounding the act of sex.

A chance encounter with the school’s head bully in charge—struggling with some performance-sapping pressure thanks to his, well, plus-sized appendage—finds Otis dispensing impromptu sex advice. Fueled by years of his mother’s open-minded tutelage, Otis actually helps the kid out. This good deed does not go unnoticed by class outcast and local bad girl Maeve (Emma Mackey), who senses an opportunity. She offers her services as business manager and convinces Otis (who just happens to have a crush on her) to set up a freelance therapy clinic in the school’s abandoned bathroom. Turns out he’s got a knack for it. “He’s very non-threatening,” points out another of Otis’ satisfied customers. “Like a Care Bear.”

The show includes a lot of the usual high school tropes: lunch-money-stealing bullies, brainy nerds, snobby rich kids, mean girl fashionistas. But it balances its cartoonish familiarity with a certain degree of realism and honesty. “Sex Education” features tons of frank sexual talk and plenty of nudity (of the full-frontal male variety, mostly—which has been deemed “hilarious” since at least 2008). But, thanks to its smart scripting and heartfelt messaging, the show comes across as far more bawdy than raunchy. “Sex Education” isn’t trying to one-up its predecessors (from Porky’s to Blockers) with its naughty nature. It’s actually pointing out the lingering confusion of modern teenagers and the idea that adults may not have all of this figured out quite as well as we think, either. Funny, raucous and secretly wise, “Sex Education” is a life lesson for horny teenagers of all ages.

Season 1 of “Sex Education” is available for streaming on Netflix now.

 
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