Season 2 of Sex Education is as unique as ever

Even with a different episode structure, the show remains a joy to watch

Sex Education continues to be a success.
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My sister and her friend came over for dinner just as my housemates and I were finishing the last 15 minutes of the newly-released second season of Netflix’s Sex Education.

Watching this season’s climax take place during an erotic space opera version of Romeo and Juliet on a stage literally shaped like a penis, I attempted to give our dinner guests some context to make sense of what was onscreen. As I began my explanation, the lyrics of “Once in a Lifetime” by The Talking Heads played in my head, specifically the line: “You may ask yourself, well, how did I get here?” The show that began as a raunchy comedy series about a teenage sex therapist has somehow evolved into one of the most complex and unique shows currently streaming.

Last season, each episode was built using the same structure, centered around a different sexual dilemma faced by members of the Moordale student body. Protagonist and amateur sex therapist Otis Milburn would be enlisted to help, with sub-plots meticulously woven throughout.

But with Otis no longer needed for advice, the series chooses to give more importance to the characters themselves, rather than their issues. Now, the problems the students face are more mundane—practicing safe sex, communicating with your significant other, and anal douching are only a couple of examples. They're less outrageous and lack the pure shock factor some episodes had last season. As a result, the secondary cast are no longer puppets used to propel the plot. We see them as real people, rather than mere problems to be solved. 

This season opens with Moordale Secondary School in the midst of a chlamydia outbreak. The outbreak was quickly debunked as a case of STI hysteria by Otis’ mom, real sex therapist Dr. Milburn. After a parents’ assembly, she is contracted by the school board to review its sexual education curriculum and begins giving both students and staff alike sex advice for free.

Dr. Milburn’s introduction into the Moordale ecosystem becomes a problem for Otis, who used to charge his peers money for his amateur advice. It’s through this drastic change in circumstances that Sex Education breaks out of its formulaic mould and morphs into something more mature and focused.

That said, the series veers towards being too didactic when presenting central themes to the audience this season. There are instances where the show’s instructive nature is welcome, like when Ola and Adam discuss the definition of pansexuality. However, in episode seven, there’s a clear teachable moment where the central female characters bond over the fact that they’ve all been victims of predatory behaviour or sexual assault.

Although their accounts are horrific, culminating this storyline in a didactic, feminist “girl power” moment felt too staged for a show whose main draw is its hyper-realism. On the other hand, the fact that I perceived this scene as such only reinforces what the girls are discussing, because as a 20-year-old woman, I’m well aware of the dangers women face on a daily basis. “Two-thirds of girls experience unwanted sexual tension or contact in public spaces before the age of 21,” one of the characters reminds us. Reciting the statistic seems tired only because it’s a fact that I'm already accustomed to, and maybe that’s the terrifying point they’re trying to make.

It’s during moments like these, when Sex Education examines raw and grounded experiences that I find the show at its most rewarding. It’s a joy to watch, even when it’s dealing with emotionally fraught subjects. The show treats the universal discomfort of growing up with the empathy you’d expect from a parent, setting an example for what we should expect from teen shows.

If we can learn anything from Sex Education, it is that if you treat teens with the same respect as you treat adults, they’ll listen.

 

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