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Sex Education continues to fly the flag for representation as it shakes up the TV landscape

The hit Netflix drama's rich, rebellious, R-rated storytelling continues to set the standard.

By Alastair James

Words: Thomas Stichbury; pictures: Provided and Sam Taylor/Netflix

Confession: I resisted watching Sex Education, the winner of this year’s Gamechanger Award at the 2021 Virgin Atlantic Attitude Awards, powered by Jaguar, for a couple of years.

Ignoring the audible buzz, the recommendations from telly-savvy friends, and yes, even the presence of acting deity Gillian Anderson, I told myself that I was simply too old to watch a show about a bunch of kids navigating the troubles and travails of being a teenager.

Been there, done that, got the acne scars to prove it. But I was wrong – forget the receding hairline and unfulfilled hopes and dreams, aren’t we all still teens inside?

Creator Laurie Nunn, 35, thinks so. She says in the Attitude Awards issue – out now to download and to order globally; “I feel like I’m 16. It just never really goes away, that awkward, cringe ‘I don’t know what I’m doing’ feeling. You continue to carry that into your life as an adult.

Laurie Nunn. The Attitude Awards issue is out now to download and to order globally (Photo: Provided)

“I think that’s why a lot of teen programmes do transcend and connect with people of different generations,” she muses.

Set inside the hallways of fictional Moordale Secondary School, Netflix’s comedy-drama dances around a nifty premise: a teen ‘therapist’ – Otis, played by Asa Butterfield – dishes out sex and relationship advice from the school’s bogs, with the help of his crush, cool-girl Maeve (Margot Robbie- lookalike Emma Mackey).

Sure, there are tons of (incredibly well-choreographed) intimate scenes, but it would be a rookie mistake to presume the series is only about nookie.

“I always say to people, if you can get past the first few minutes of any episode, you’ll pretty quickly realise that the show is actually very sweet-natured. There’s nothing in it that’s really going to upset or offend.

“Once people understand that, they’re not so worried any more,” Laurie adds.

Ncuti Gatwa and Connor Swindells in Sex Education (Photo: Sam Taylor/Netflix) 

Joining the pimple-faced pantheon of teen TV greats, from My So-Called Life and Dawson’s Creek to The OC, Sex Education’s special something is its ability to take well-worn tropes, like the bully with a bruised heart, and tumble and twist them into something fresh, funny and forward-thinking.

An A-grade cast – Ncuti Gatwa, aka the unapologetically gay Eric Effiong, has already been nominated for two BAFTA Awards – and crew (the writers’ room is predominantly queer and female) bring to life a rich array of stories that travel far and wide, long after the episode credits have rolled.

“There was one message I got from somebody [who was gay] in the Middle East who basically said, ‘Every time I watched Sex Education, I escaped to my dreams for 40 minutes,’” Ncuti recalls in the October issue of Attitude.

“Like, wow, we’re having so much fun here doing this thing, but this guy has to escape to a place of acceptance through a screen. Do you know what I mean?”

Living up to its title, the smash-hit is, well, very educational, whether it’s lifting up the LGBTQ+ community across the spectrum – season three, now available to watch on the streaming giant, has a non-binary character portrayed, importantly, by a non-binary actor – gleefully busting taboos about, say, female pleasure, or sparking vital conversations around issues of consent and, in turn, sexual assault.

A bona-fide gamechanger, Sex Education really has done its homework when it comes to representation and making sure viewers, whoever and wherever they are, can see themselves on screen.

Plus, how many other shows can say they featured Gillian tossing off a courgette… 

The Attitude Awards issue is out now.

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