When the first season of Netflix comedy Sex Education debuted last year, it won plentiful plaudits for its frank and open portrayal of teenage sex, with viewers praising both its maturity and the refreshing honesty with which it presented the awkwardness of adolescent sexuality.
And, thank goodness, it doesn’t take long to find out that we’re in familiar territory this time round. Less than one minute into season two, we’re plunged head first into what can only be described as a masturbation montage, as series lead Otis (Asa Butterfield) is seen frequently pleasuring himself in a number of different scenarios, all hilariously scored to a choral rendition of Divynls 1990 hit I Touch Myself.
As series openings go, it’s a pretty killer sequence, slickly reintroducing us to the show’s humour, its openness – and, when it culminates in a messy episode in Otis’s mother’s car – its often unbearable, toe-curling awkwardness. For those who feared season two might not live up to the hype of the opening run, any doubts are very swiftly put aside.
In other ways, too, the show retains much of what originally made it so successful. The quasi-American aesthetic that characterised its unique look and feel in season one is unsurprisingly back, and although this proved a little divisive last time round, for the most part it adds a definite charm to the series – evoking the spirit of John Hughes’s iconic 80’s teen movies without sacrificing the sense of Britishness that is so key to the series. Also returning from last time out are most of series one’s exceptional cast (with a few new faces added for good measure) and the peppy jukebox soundtrack, with the music of American singer-songwriter Ezra Furman once again especially prominent.
As for the plot, this time round we join Otis as he navigates his relationship with Ola (Patricia Allison) – with whom he got together at the close of the first series. Amidst his new life, and in part due to the absence of Maeve (Emma Mackey), Otis is no longer running the sex advice clinic at Moordale Secondary School – which, it turns out, has pretty drastic consequences as the school is soon hit by an outbreak of chlamydia.
This prompts the attention of Otis’s sex therapist mother Dr Jean F Milburn (Gillian Anderson) who begins a one-woman mission to revolutionise the outdated sex education classes at the school. Maeve, meanwhile, cuts a despondent figure as we find her reluctantly selling pretzels following her expulsion from Moordale – before she decides to engineer a return. There are also new storylines for many of the other main and supporting characters from season one, including a new love interest for Otis’s best friend and frequent scene-stealer Eric (Ncuti Gatwa).
If there is one problem with the show it’s that at times there are simply so many storylines that it threatens to all become a bit overwhelming. In the first two episodes alone, in addition to arcs for Otis, Ola, Jean, Maeve and Eric, we see separate plotlines concerning headmaster’s son and former school bully Adam (Connor Swindells) who has been sent away to army camp, Maeve’s ex- boyfriend and the school’s head boy Jackson (Kedar Williams-Stirling) who has forcefully injured himself, and science teacher Mr Hendricks (Jim Howick) who is having sexual difficulties with his girlfriend, Moordale’s English teacher Miss Sands.
Of course, having a wide array of characters and arcs is not necessarily a bad thing, but it can sometimes add a slightly fragmented feel to the series, depriving the show of some of its focus. It would be nice, for example, to see Otis and Maeve – whose dynamic was so key to series one – share more scenes, and it seems inevitable that viewers are going to care more about some storylines than others.
Beyond this, however, it’s very difficult to find anything to complain about in this infectious and often informative comedy. It’s the type of show that, considering its subject matter and the aforementioned US-UK hybrid aesthetic, could so easily have felt a bit forced and uncomfortable, but instead it comes across as natural and effortless; effortlessly charming, effortlessly witty and just so effortlessly enjoyable.
For this, we have the writing and performances to thank. The scripts from creator Laurie Nunn and her team are razor sharp, managing to be both frequently funny (nearly every joke lands) and, at the right moments, tender and intelligent – with each character written as three-dimensional and nuanced rather than the stock high school characters they could so easily have become. Meanwhile across the board, the acting is exceptional. Butterfield is more than capable of carrying the series as its lead, while Gillian Anderson is predictably good value as his boundary-breaking mother.
But there can be no doubting that the star of the show is Ncuti Gatwa, who once again runs away with every scene he appears in. Gatwa has such an infectious energy to him, with his facial expressions consistently priceless and his line delivery and comic timing always on point – whispering “I think we’ve cured chlamydia” to Otis at the climax of the first episode is a particular early series highlight. He seems destined to be a major star.
In all, the opening two episodes reveal this to be a sophomore season that expertly builds on what came before it without simply treading the same ground, and barring a major mess up further down the line, Netflix can surely put Sex Education firmly in its box of successes.
Sex Education season two arrives on Netflix on Friday 17th January 2020 at 8am