While sex education is primarily a coming-of-age story revolving around the drama in the life of 16 year old Otis Milburn, I have always been intrigued more by the women in the story.
First up is brave Maeve Wiley, a young teenager forced to look after herself. She is a pink-haired rebel who loves philosophy, feminism and literature.
Played by Emma Mackey, Maeve is a trailer park girl with a drug dealer for a brother. Maeve has made peace with the fact that life is going to be harder than usual for her and that she will have to bear all her burdens alone. Watching her undergo an abortion and yet remain strong enough to offer support and comfort to other women undergoing abortions, offering her chocolate souffle to one such woman as a quite act of support and kindness, goes a long way in establishing Maeve as a woman who believes in forging positive female friendships. Maeve will also never let any harm come to any other girl even if it is someone mean and condescending like Ruby whose clique routinely excludes and shames her for lacking class.
Then there is Aimee Gibbs who admits to always faking it in her desperate need for approval from the ‘cool kids’. Played with heartbreaking authenticity and vulnerability by Aimee Lou Wood, Gibbs is the girl torn between two worlds; the perfect clique of her condescending “uppercrust” friends Ruby, Olivia and Anwar as opposed to the simpler yet awkward world of rebels, dorks and sundry social rejects in any high school ecosystem. At one point when “top heavy Steve” turns up at her door for a study group, she openly admits that there is no study group. “We just smoke weed and bitch about people,” she says matter-of-factly. But Aimee has a genuinely nice and warm side that makes her seek out rebels like Maeve with whom she forms a strong bond and for whom she eventually abandons her uber cool clique.
Even Ruby and Olivia are deeply flawed and insecure. It makes them mean towards others and also leads them to act against one another in a bid to establish their positions in the power dynamic of an exclusive clique. But in a testament to the fact that everyone has the capacity for good, all the girls stand up and declare, “It’s my vagina” when a scandal breaks on campus as the images of a young woman’s vagina are leaked.
Then there is alien erotica writer Lily Iglehard who is so determined to lose her virginity that she fails to determine if her body is ready for it. Ola is lovely, but we need to see her character develop more. Currently, she is quite charming as the daughter who is looking after her recovering alcoholic father by driving him around and a kind friend and possible love interest to Otis. But we need to know more about her personality and desires.
Finally, no mention of Sex Education can be complete without a hat tip to Goddess Gillian Anderson’s deliciously flawed Dr Jean Milburn, a sex therapist who is also an over protective and often hypocritical parent. She encourages her son to be open with her without actually making him feel comfortable enough in the first place. If only she had listened more and preached less. She also keeps invading and violating his privacy, and even goes as far as writing a book about his sexual repression… an act of betraying his confidence. But when Otis finally confronts her, she shows courage in accepting her flaws and vows to become a better mother and person. I must admit though, that Gillian Anderson’s screen time appeared a bit limited. But Netflix has announced Season 2 and I hope to see more of this ridiculously gifted shape-shifter named Gillian Anderson on the show.
*Feature image and all stills courtesy Sex Education on Netflix