Sex Education, season 2 review: sweet, funny, admirable – but not very sexy

Anita Singh
Asa Butterfield and Ncuti Gatwa in Sex Education

According to Netflix, Sex Education was one of the streamer’s most viewed shows of 2019. I’m not among its devoted fans, but what do I know? I’m way too old.

Old enough to remember the John Hughes films which apparently inspired the writer, Laurie Nunn, to set the series in a weird fictional universe that is ostensibly British (the accents, the cynicism, the lead existing in a near-constant state of extreme social embarrassment), yet looks American (the varsity jackets, the jocks, the campus where it never rains). In common with those films, the cast are playing teenagers but all look 27.

It is back for a second series. Otis (Asa Butterfield) is no longer the unofficial school sex therapist. Mortifyingly, his mother – an actual sex therapist, dismayed by the school’s sex and relationships education – installs herself in a classroom to offer advice. She is played by Gillian Anderson, who brings a touch of class to proceedings by dint of being Gillian Anderson. Otis’s exuberant best friend, Eric (Ncuti Gatwa, the best thing in it), is smitten by a hot French student. And the sullen but vulnerable Maeve (Emma Mackey) returns, coping with a nightmare mother (Anne-Marie Duff).

The show is absolutely stuffed with sex. Which is not to say that it’s sexy. The sex scenes are comically awkward. The kids talk about sex with forensic frankness and a level of earnestness they would apply to discussions about carbon emissions. If I’d watched this as a teenager I would have concluded that sex was so boring, I may as well concentrate on my A-levels. But its admirable purpose is to talk openly about issues from consent and masturbation to sexually transmitted diseases and sexual assault – and what to do if you have a sex face that looks “like a python swallowing an egg”.

Underneath it all is a sweet, conventional drama with lovely performances: Connor Swindells stands out as the unhappy and secretly gay Adam. But the show is less groundbreaking than it thinks. I’m showing my age, but I think John Hughes did it better.