The premiere season of Sex Education was a delightful, insightful, and thought-provoking look at the sex lives of teenagers. It was provocative and progressive in the way it allowed its central teen characters to openly express their curiosities and confusion when it comes to something the pop culture zeitgeist would have us all convinced is universally beloved. It was a breath of fresh air in the genre of high school shows, and while the second season retains much of the spirit of the first season, there were also many moments where I wondered what exactly Sex Education is trying to say.
The sophomore season picks up shortly after the first season cliffhanger of Otis (Asa Butterfield) making the choice to be with Ola (Patricia Allison) instead of continuing to pine for Maeve (Emma Mackey), as well as a great stride forward in overcoming his fear of masturbation. The big arc for Otis in Season 1 was to stop being so self-centered and to be better at noticing the struggles of his peers around him. He seemed to finally get there in the Season 1 finale, but in the sophomore season he regresses and basically has to repeat the same lesson, only in an emotionally tangential place to where he was at the end of Season 1. His inability to remember the lessons he learned in Season 1 cause his major milestones to feel less impactful, even for Otis. It's not until he finally starts considering those around him that he regains the hearts and allegiance of the audience.
A similar note could be given to Jean (Gillian Anderson), who spent the season learning to reopen her heart to the possibility of true love. She did that by the end of the season, but Season 2 seemed to retread so much of that same territory. Even acknowledging that progress is not always a linear path, it was frustrating to watch the two central characters of the series struggle to get back to a place they seemed comfortable at the last time we saw them. When it comes to their arcs, it felt like Sex Education was treading water to get to important revelations that won't resolve until Season 3, but in this crowded TV landscape when future seasons are anything but guaranteed, that's a risky game to play (though given the success of the show, we'd be shocked if there wasn't a third season).
This is not to say that Season 2 is not without its merits. While Maeve spent Season 1 proving to Otis that she was far more than the dangerous bad girl she led everyone to believe she was, Season 2 had her proving that to herself with varying degrees of success. She's the one you root for to escape this small town the most, and that won't be possible until Maeve believes she is worthy of the success she is so capable of earning. Finding that inner confidence over the course of Season 2, especially with the help of some fascinating new characters, leaves her in a very exciting place for future episodes.
A standout feature of Season 1 that delightfully remained in Season 2 was the ability of Sex Education to share the spotlight with its supporting cast and give them the proper space to breathe, even if they aren't directly related to the central action. Special shout-outs go to Aimee Lou Wood, who plays through the trauma, grief, and humor over the course of Aimee's storyline with such heart and sincerity, and to Tanya Reynolds who gives us even more insight into Lily's stoic quirkiness, while never letting the audience lose sight of her humanity. Season 2 also took the opportunity to dig deeper into Adam's (Connor Swindells) psyche and allowed the former bully to find some self-acceptance and happiness of his own as he was forced to figure out what direction he wanted to take in his own life over the course of the sophomore season.
While some parts of Sex Education Season 2 were frustrating, it remains one of the most important shows about youth of our time. It still pushes the envelope and asks tough questions about subjects considered taboo to even murmur about, and it does it with humor and grace. The sophomore season gets a slap on the wrist for occasionally losing focus, but who hasn't been caught looking out the window during class in their day? The joy of the show hasn't been ruined, and should Season 3 come to fruition, it'll be interesting to see where this crew goes next.
TV Guide Rating: 3/5
Sex Education Season 2 arrives on Netflix on Friday, Jan. 17.
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