Netflix’s Sex Education is set in a British school – so why does it feel so American?
Breakfast Club lockers, Letterman jackets, American footballs in the corridors – where is this British comedy meant to be set?
Sex Education centres around Otis Milburn (Asa Butterfield), a socially awkward high school student whose mother is a sex therapist played by The X-Files star Gillian Anderson.
The series is set in a British school, in the British countryside, with a British cast – and yet, oddly, it feels distinctly American.
The school is called Moorfield High; its corridors are lined with Breakfast Club-style lockers; the students play American football, dress in Letterman jackets and don't wear uniform.
Gillian Anderson told RadioTimes.com that this was a purposeful move from the writers and Netflix, and pointed out that it’s an element many British viewers will clock but that Americans will probably miss. “There is a bit of both worlds, decidedly, in the series, and the aim and the hope is that Americans won't notice,” she says.
“For instance, the Brits may notice that they are throwing American footballs, whereas the Americans won't notice that that might be strange for people speaking with British accents.
“The rules are shifting all the time in terms of how an audience receives the shows that they're watching, what they're willing to accept and what realms and worlds they're willing to step into to suspend their disbelief.
“I think Netflix feels quite strongly that they've hit on something with this amalgamation.”
This British and American blend is therefore presumably at least partly designed to give the show more international appeal, just like previous Netflix teen series Elite, a Spanish high school drama with more than a hint of Gossip Girl.
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However, Sex Education writer Laurie Nunn and series director Ben Taylor both say that the US high school feel is also deliberate creative callback.
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“I've always been really influenced by American film and TV shows; they played a really big part in my own teenage years, so that was always something I wanted to come back to,” explained Nunn.
“It's definitely set in Britain, but we've made a very conscious choice to have that American, throw-back nostalgia, John Hughes feel to it.”
Hughes’ credits include The Breakfast Club, Home Alone and Ferris Bueller’s Day Off.
“We wanted to make a show with lockers from The Breakfast Club in it,” admitted Taylor. “It was stylistically a deliberate choice early on that we dislocated it from geographically knowing exactly where it was. Mid-Atlantic, American influence, but British ingredients.
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“I’ve always been really frustrated that the British school experience is never portrayed with positivity or colour or warmth or hope; it always tends to be sticking two fingers up and saying, ‘I’m out of here as soon as I graduate,’ she adds.
“Whereas I think there's an American feeling that, even though the films are riddled with anxieties and angst, you'd still look back at them as the best years of your life. That became the backdrop of what we wanted to set Otis's story against.”
Sex Education is available on Netflix now
This article was originally published in January 2019