Otis Milburn (Asa Butterfield) is ready to get his groove on in Sex Education Season 2, and TV Guide got a good, hard look at just how he intends to do that while visiting the UK set of the Netflix dramedy series back in July 2018.
It was an overcast, muggy day in rural Wales — in a town about two hours from London — and some key players were already setting up for the very first scene of the season during the start of our trip. Little did we know, we were about to see something we couldn't ever unsee.
Fans of the Netflix series, which brilliantly explores issues around sex and sexuality through teenagers at the imaginary Moordale high school, know that when Season 1 concluded, Otis still hadn't lost his virginity ... or even figured out how to masturbate, for that matter. Otis' squeamishness about sex and his own body were of course in keeping with ordinary adolescent anxieties, but Otis' troubles have been exacerbated by the abnormal relationship he has with his mother Jean (Gillian Anderson), a sex therapist and a helicopter parent who takes TMI to a whole new level. Otis was shy and skittish about sex in Season 1, but in Season 2, Otis is ready to get his proverbial freak on — and in the very first scene that was shot during our visit, Jean gets an eyeful of just how determined Otis is. As in, a literal eyeful.
In the scene, Otis has learned how to finally become the master of his own domain(to borrow a Seinfeldphrase), and like a great many teenage boys, his new pastime becomes an all-consuming obsession. Otis waits in the car as Jean pops into a grocery store. When she returns, she finds Otis has, erm, been keeping himself busy. Otis' moment of spontaneous self-pleasure required several hours of careful orchestration, many extras, a crane hoisted high in the air, and numerous adjustments of a prosthetic penis by Asa Butterfield to make sure the money shot landed just right. After a couple practice runs, Asa squirted a blast of coconut shampoo on the drivers's side window that — Splat! — hit the glass at just the right angle near Jean's face.
"That's beautiful!" executive producer Jamie Campbell shouted in response to the moment, a comment that was worth almost as many gasps as the actual moment of production.
There was more to learn from the trip than just that sticky situation ahead, of course.
Many key scenes in Sex Education, including those shot in the enormous Moordale High, take place in an old university building abandoned in 2016. Touring the set, it's hard to believe that the huge campus, a cluster of administrative buildings and dormitories in addition to the gigantic school, were simply left behind when University of Wales dissolved after more than 100 years, but the remote location and spookiness of the mostly empty rooms lends the set an air of detached, distant romance — a vibe that comes through on screen and in the story itself.
Despite the fact that Sex Education takes place in an idealized, mostly progressive world where gay, straight, asexual, bisexual and fetish-minded people co-exist in a relative harmony, the show avoids feeling too modern. Characters' clothes are intentionally non-decade specific, and unlike, say, The Bold Type, 21st century stuff like Instagram doesn't factor much into the story. Way out there in Cardiff, Wales, where cellular reception is scarce and livestock chills in green pastures, Sex Education feels separate from the world as we know it, creating a world of its own. It's within that world that Otis — a male character who is invention of Laurie Nunn — is growing up, and learning to navigate sex without the misogynistic cruelty towards women we'd associate with toxic masculinity but just enough of the flaws and imperfections needed to make him real.
"Otis doesn't fit into a box," Butterfield told us during a break from production. "His maturity and his understanding of sex is freakishly deep and mature, and I think that's quite interesting thing to play with — having that knowledge and not having the ability to do anything with it. It's an interesting aspect of the character."
This season, Otis is in a bit of a love triangle with Ola (Patricia Allison) and his old flame Maeve (Emma Mackey) and — spoiler alert! — some things go very wrong. "Otis adores [Maeve]," Butterfield added. "He still has feelings for her. They definitely have such a connection. They get each other in ways no one else does, and we see in how Maeve's feelings for Otis grow. It's a slow growth."
Everyone's growing up and growing more comfortable with being horny in Season 2 — including Ola, who begins her own journey of self-discovery this go round. Allison told TV Guide that Ola "discovers who she wants to be" in Season 2 — which includes exploring a friendship with Moordale's resident oddball Lily (Tanya Reynolds) which takes on a new shape that catches them both by surprise. Per Allison, "Her friendship with Lily blossoms into something else. [Ola] is not reluctant to explore herself. She thinks she knows herself very well but she doesn't and it's something she has to question and explore."
Of course, Sex Education's huge cast of compelling characters means there's much, much more to come: Jean deepens her relationship with Jakob (Mikael Persbrandt); Jackson (Kedar Williams-Stirling) finds love, in the platonic sense, with a classmate; there's an important sexual assault story line; and Otis' best friend Eric (Ncuti Gatwa) finds himself in a love triangle of his own when Adam (Connor Swindells) returns home from military school and a new student, Rahim, competes for Eric's heart.
Gatwa wasn't on set that day to talk about Eric's walk this season, but Butterfield said Otis will be there with him all the way to help him navigate the tricky situation. Though Eric is gay and Otis is straight and they never have sex, it's their relationship that's actually one of the show's most poignant and important. "It's an important friendship because [gay-straight friendship] is normal," Butterfield explained. "The fact that they can be so close and love each other and have that relationship and talk about all sorts of things without shying away from [their sexuality], it's a good thing."
Otis and Eric's friendship might be the central most satisfying relationship of the series, but it's Otis and Maeve's fraught affection for one another that's most suspenseful. Their missed connections, and the deep potential for an idealized pairing is the story line that'll thread in and out of the many horny yarns in Season 2, but fans hoping for a definitive answer to the 'will, they, won't they?' question will need to be very patient.
"It's leaning towards it eventually, maybe," Butterfield teased of their inevitable hookup. And as the afternoon wound down on the set, a gentle rain began to wash over the set just as Butterfield himself began sprinkling cold water on the matter. "People are hoping they get together, I'm hoping they'll get together but the writers always surprise me," he continued. "Whether it'll last, whether they're destined to be together ... well, they're teenagers. What are you going to do?"
Sex Education Season 2 arrives on Netflix globally on Friday, Jan. 17. Season 1 is now streaming on Netflix.
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