This is a non-spoiler review for all eight episodes of Sex Education: Season 2, premiering Friday, January 17 on Netflix.
For a series that dabbles generously in some of the most overused sitcom/rom-com trappings, Netflix’s Sex Education continues to feel delightfully genuine because of its explicit honesty and breadth of inclusivity. It’s also anchored by some remarkably strong performances from Asa Butterfield and Gillian Anderson, whose characters both get to spiral a bit more out of control this season as their lives are made more complicated by both sex and intimacy.
As it did back in Season 1, Sex Education suffers at times — for lack of a better term — from “Knives Chau” syndrome. Meaning, one winds up caring about the relationship with the partner a character is not fated to be with more than the hypothetical “will they/won’t they?” partner the show wants us to care about more. This effect gets amplified this year as Season 2 focuses more on relationships than it does Otis and Maeve’s “sex clinic.”
Not only do we hone in on Otis and Ola’s budding romance (while the show still wants us to root for him and Maeve) but Ncuti Gatwa’s Eric gets a boyfriend too – a perfectly nice young man (played by Sami Outalbali) who the series attempts to undercut by the return of Connor Swindells’ Adam. Yes, love triangles still seem to be the show’s crutch at times, but fortunately, it’s buoyed by characters we actually care about and a very fun and formidable friendship between Otis and Eric, which helps carry us through Season 2 now that Otis and Maeve mostly have their stories apart from one another.
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Sure, there’s something be said for employing the theme of “the heart wants what the heart wants,” and how that move can be both wise and unwise at the same time, but it’s also frustrating to watch our core characters commit blunder after blunder. Sex Education is nothing if not a series of missed chances, misunderstandings, and embarrassing hijinx. To the show’s credit though, everyone gets their time in the spotlight of humiliation and no one is spared the indignities of poor judgment and scandalous happenstance.
Season 2 also more greatly extends the misadventures to the adults, particularly Anderson’s Dr. Jean, who gets to create her own personal mistakes with Mikael Persbrandt’s Jakob. Likewise, members of Moordale’s faculty also get swept into the mix, creating a grander palate for storytelling and giving us a more layered view of the community and its characters. It’s still mostly told through the lens of sex, of course, but that’s because the central messaging of the show is that confusion and anxiety about sex and love are often great societal equalizers (and the common bond between generations).
The series’ overall frankness about sex is still its defining trait – although it also leans heavily on relationship drama, that’s exactly not a unique narrative (and it’s where the show falls into a mini-rut sometimes because of all the tropes involved). But Sex Education always manages to rescue itself thanks to its unflinching candidness. It’s a fun push/pull that’s able to draw out the very best from characters we care about.
Season 2 also does an admirably deeper dive into aspects of relationships beyond sex, attempting to address why things don’t work out between two individuals beyond awkwardness in the bedroom. It’s not a full exploration, but the return of James Purefoy as Otis’ exhaustingly arrogant father, Remi, allows Otis to examine, perhaps, why everything does wind up turning to s*** for him as series tries to tie his ill-fated foul-ups into something driving him to nosedive on a subconscious level.
It’s worth noting that not every Season 2 storyline involves sex. Maeve’s arc, which largely involves the return of her addict mother, keeps her away from most (but not all) of the Moordale yarns and pairs her with wheelchair-bound Isaac (George Robinson). And Maeve’s ex, Jackson (Kedar Williams-Stirling), branches out more fully as Season 2’s biggest example of the show becoming a true ensemble, in a story where he has to confront the crushing weight and anxiety he feels as a star swimmer.