No. I’m not offering advice or therapy so don’t ask. I’m talking about the Netflix series, Sex Education, which is far and away the best thing I’ve seen on the idiot box for a very long time.
Otis, a sixth-former, has a problem with masturbation: he cannot bring himself to a climax. He surmises that this may be because his sex therapist mother seems unable to keep out of his life. His best friend, Eric, is black and extravagantly gay, despite being the victim of the school bully, Adam, the son of the reactionary Headmaster. Maeve, the seemingly hard-faced, bitchy beauty from a trailer park, is Otis’s object of desire, though he believes her to be out of his league. He is rather in awe of her reputation for being promiscuous.
The plot is highly improbable. Otis finds that he has a talent as a sex therapist in his own right. He offers advice on sexual hang-ups to his fellow classmates and Maeve becomes his manager, taking payment for the counselling.
The setting is strange too. The school feels American, with wide, locker-lined corridors. There is an obsession with therapy that is on the increase in the UK though not yet at US levels. However, the cast are English, and Otis, despite his American sounding name, very much so. He lives with his mother in an opulent house hanging over a deep wooded valley. New England, I thought. Then, hang on, I thought, that could be the Wye Valley. I did a Google and, what do you know, I was right.
I suppose what is going on here is that thanks to social media and the globalising effect of the Web, there is much less difference between American and British teenagers than in the Fifties, say, when teenagers were invented. Add to that, the openness of British kids to cultural assimilation from the States and it begins to make sense. There is also the commercial fact that the makers wanted to appeal to audiences on both sides of the pond.
These initial niggles evaporated rapidly in the exhilarating momentum of the series. It is certainly not for the squeamish. If you are offended by the frank and frequent use of sexual vocabulary, this is not for you.
A warning: Sex Education is dangerously addictive. There are only eight episodes, so pace yourself. Don’t do what I did which was to binge-watch seven episodes and then wait two months to watch the last one because you didn’t want it to end.
The candour smacks you between the eyes, but when you have caught your breath, you will find it irrepressibly funny, very cleverly written, even wise. Gillian Anderson, as Otis’s hyper-liberal mother, is so convincing a control freak that you want to scream ‘leave him alone!’ at the telly. Emma Mackey as Maeve puts in a very sophisticated and complex performance. At first, she is unappealing in her icy aloofness, but gradually we see a lost girl who is fundamentally decent and honest. Eric is played by Ncuti Gatwa – a brilliant performance this, excruciatingly funny but also deeply moving. He is not a clichéd patsy: for every setback and put-down he comes out fighting, ever more flamboyantly and outrageously camp, and you have to admire his courage. When he and Otis fell out, I was beside myself.
Asa Butterfield as Otis is simply adorable. He captures the anguish and ecstasy of being sixteen perfectly. He was brilliant as Bruno in The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas and more recently as Raleigh in Journey’s End. I think he is one of our finest young actors.
I am going to say nothing about the plot except that what I shall call the ‘Spartacus Moment’ in (I think, Episode 5) is priceless and the ending of this series is quite joyous. I felt a sense of bereavement when it was all done but have been revived by the news that a new series is in preparation.
THE NORTHERN ELEMENTS
My third novel is nearly ready for publication. I expect the launch to be in early July.
The Northern Elements, is so called because the ancient elements of earth, air, fire, and water are thematic threads woven into the story. Set in Lancashire, in 1890 and 1960, the novel involves two gangs of small boys and their adventures, seventy years apart.
The tragic secret that links the the two gangs only emerges in the second part of the book, which is set in the present day.
There is no sex.