The stars of Sex Education became international celebrities almost overnight when the first season dropped back in January 2019.
The realisation hit Aimee Lou Wood, the 24-year-old newcomer who opened the series with a graphic sex scene, when she entered her local corner shop.
“I knew the show was a hit when I went home to Stockport, and Doris from the corner shop was like, ‘I love Sex Education’,” she tells RadioTimes.com on set while filming the show’s second season. “What are you doing watching Sex Education? Sorry for the first 10 seconds, Doris, you’ve known me since I was five…”
The show was a runaway hit from the first weekend it dropped in January 2019, with Netflix announcing that it had been viewed by 40 million people in the first four weeks of its release. All of a sudden, this cast of young Britons – many of whom had not done any professional acting work before – were household names all around the world.
And as Sex Education pokes and prods around sensitive issues surrounding sex, aiming to squash taboos and star conversations, the cast have found that fans tend to want to talk about one thing, and one thing only.
“I learned a lot about how people want to talk about sex but feel like they can’t,” Wood says. “Everyone is going around with sexual anxieties and nobody is talking about it. As soon as the show came out a lot of friends and family members came over to me and thought, ‘Great, I can offload a lot of s**t now.”
The series centres around a high school in an almost dystopian version of Britain that is done up like a 1980s teen film (the show’s producers cite John Hughes as the prevailing influence). At the centre of things is Otis (Asa Butterfield), a spindly introvert, who sparks up a friendship, a business partnership and a will-they-won’t-they romance with relentlessly cool outsider Maeve Wiley (Emma Mackey).
In the face of a dearth of sexual health and relationship advice, they arrange sex therapy sessions for their fellow students, based on the knowledge Otis has co-opted from his mother, Jean, played by Gillian Anderson, a renowned expert on all things sex.
Through this we learn about all the awkward, unsuccessful sexual experiences typical of teenage life. It feels honest and accurate, which is more than can be said for a whole lot of its predecessors.
“There were teen shows when I was younger that had sex in them, and everything was going so smoothly for these 16-year-olds,” Wood says. “They’re having this steamy sex [in Skins]. And it just seemed like, oh God, that’s what sex is? That’s not what it’s like when I have it. It’s awkward as hell. Stuff goes wrong, and I never saw it on screen.”
Over the course of an eight-episode run, we saw the characters grow and change greatly.
But what can we expect from the second season? We headed to the set in Wales to find out. Here’s everything we learned:
Otis’s dad will be in the picture this year
Otis’ dad Remi Milburn (James Purefoy) was entirely absent from the first season of Sex Education, save for a brief flashback in which Otis recalled walking in on his him having sex with a patient, leading to his parents’ divorce when he was a young boy.
“We see more of Otis’s dad – he comes off his book tour,” Butterfield says. ” I think it is a really interesting relationship actually, one of the most important in Otis’s life, even though he doesn’t see him very much, that whole relationship is very telling of Otis as a character.
He also teased an excellent episode which sees him, Eric and Remi go on a trip together.
“Me, my best friend and my Dad go camping and it doesn’t really go according to plan,” he says. “We will leave it at that.”
The new season will tackle sexual assault, asexuality and mental illness
As with season one, the new set of episodes is set to shine a light on important issues that young people encounter.
Ncuti Gatwa says there’s a particularly powerful storyline about sexual assault surrounding Aimee’s character. “Hopefully we can be a part of the conversation about women’s bodies do not belong to men, you can’t just do whatever you want to women’s bodies.”
And, while it was touched upon last year, Kedar Williams-Stirling says that we’ll get much more insight into Jackson’s struggles with anxiety and depression.
“We delve deeper,” he says. “With his mums, with his conditions, with being with a new character that brings out a different side to him, a side that he’s not familiar with. It’s exciting to explore.”
Plus, producer Jon Jennings says that there’s “an asexual storyline”, which will likely pique the interest of the fan theorists who were arguing last season that Otis’ inability to masturbate was a hint that he is disinterested in sex altogether…
Otis and Ola’s relationship could be going in a surprising direction
The outlook was very positive for Otis and Ola (Patricia Allison) at the end of season one: they had shared their first kiss, and Otis later managed to masturbate successfully, suggesting they might be able to successfully consummate their relationship.
But by the sounds of things, it’s not going to last very long.
“I think its quite satisfying because you get to really see the dynamic of that relationship and how the characters progress and how things work out in life,” Allison says. “And it’s not negative, its not positive. It’s pretty truthful and real if I’m honest with you, and it doesn’t feel like a TV relationship.”
Nevertheless, Ola is set to play a much bigger part in season two, joining Moordale High and striking up a friendship with sexually frustrated oddball Lily (Tanya Reynolds).
“They become friends, which is really nice, because Lily doesn’t really have friends, and she doesn’t really think she wants them,” Reynolds says. “And then Ola literally propositions her with friendship, and she’s like, ‘oh, okay.'”
There are two new faces on the scene
The first new addition is Isaac, described as a “cool, disabled orphan,” by tetraplegic newcomer George Robinson.
“Isaac is quite sarcastic, a bit witty, he’s quite an intelligent young man,” Robinson says. “He’s been through quite a lot as a kid, through various foster homes, but he’s not let any of that get him down. He’s a mouth artist, where he paints with his mouth and he enjoys doing that.”
Robinson, who broke his neck in a rugby accident when he was 17, is making his acting debut in the show, having won over the show’s producers following a casting call searching for disabled actors.
He says that the shows production team and writers have been very willing to chop and change things in order to accommodate him.
“A lot of the writing process was just asking me questions about what sort of bits I’d want to bring to Isaac, any aspect, so I brought to the table the idea of being a mouth artist, in the same way that Asa talks about bringing a lot of his gaming stuff to the character of Otis,” he says. ” I told them a few aspects of the nature of being in a wheelchair, but being a tetraplegic wheelchair user rather than a paraplegic, because it’s not always the most well-known type of injury.”
He added: “They were all absolutely willing to change stuff if it wasn’t going to work and they really worked with me to make me feel really integrated.”
Isaac, he says, moves into the caravan site that Maeve calls home, and gets to know some of the gang.
The other new addition is Rahim (Sami Outalbali), a “mysterious” new French student who arrives at the school and attracts attention straight away. “People think I’m cool the first day they see me,” Outalbali says.
The parents are going to have more screen-time
While we spent some time with Otis’s mum Jean (Anderson) last year, we didn’t really get to know any of the other parents. But that is set to change this year, with Adam Groff’s mum getting a storyline of her own, which sounds like it will see her break free from her awful husband.
“One of my favourite storylines is Mrs. Groff, Adam’s mum and [Otis’s] mum have a really good [storyline],” Gatwa says. “It’s really about your life is never done, you can reclaim it at any point, you can make life yours and you can empower yourself for yourself. And seeing someone decide to empower themselves is just beautiful. I think that will be a good conversation. No matter what age you are you can still have fun and do your thing.”
Sex Education season 2 launches 17th January on Netflix