Review: Sex Education Series 4 – ‘Kind’ comedy most mature and progressive yet

By Deborah Shaw, Professor of Film and Screen Studies, University of Portsmouth

Review: Sex Education Series 4 – ‘Kind’ comedy most mature and progressive yet
Netflix’s hit show Sex Education is back for its much-anticipated fourth and final series. Professor of Film and Screen Studies, Deborah Shaw, is co-editing a book on the show and gives her verdict on new new series. 

Sex Education follows Otis (Asa Butterfield) as he reluctantly becomes his school’s resident sex guru – despite having little experience himself – thanks to years of second-hand sex education from his mum, Jean (MiNDFOOD October cover star Gillian Anderson), a sex therapist.

Over the past three seasons, we’ve watched as Otis and his friends navigate their awkward teenage years as love, life and sex present them with all sorts of obstacles.

There are many reasons for the success of the series. It has provided a real sex education for its viewers through storylines that deal with such issues as female desire and orgasm, performance anxiety, douching, asexuality, STDs, masturbation and vaginismus. It also features brilliant, daring writing and acting from a multi-ethnic and LGBTQ+ cast.

Sex Education can be placed within the popular new genre of “kind TV” – along with series such as Ted Lasso, Schitt’s Creek and Heartstopper. As series creator and lead writer Laurie Nunn said to the press ahead of season four:

“I hope that in some way it feels a bit like a hug from the TV. I really wanted to make a show that I would have loved to watch when I was a teenager … So a show that says it’s okay to be a bit different and to not always fit into the mould; that you can still love yourself and have a great life and great friendships – that would have meant a lot to me.”

Nunn certainly achieves this, and every character finds their “safe space” (to quote Jean) in this show. Fans will love this final series, enjoying the return of the central cast, mourning the departure of some while (hopefully) welcoming other exciting new characters.

Sex Education Series 4 Gillian Anderson as Jean Milburn (left) in Season 4 of Sex Education. THOMAS WOOD/NETFLIX

LGBTQ+ storylines

Exploring identities and relationships is prioritised over sex in season four, as the series matures along with the students. They find themselves at new and more progressive Cavendish College, after their old school, Moordale, is closed due to the scandals of last season. Perhaps because there is less to push against now, there is surprisingly little sex on screen in this final series.

While Moordale aimed to rein in its sexually- and gender-curious students, Cavendish is totally different and “super queer” – to the delight of the former Moordale students. Otis notes that “it’s like Amsterdam” and Eric replies “but in space”, pointing to the teen utopianism of the final season.

The student-led college offers yoga, daily meditation, silent discos, sound baths and an emphasis on kindness and mental health. As a kind comedy, Sex Education both celebrates and gently mocks the hyper-worthiness of this culture.

This season, trans storylines are given more prominence. It’s a school where the popular power couple are trans-fem Abbi (Anthony Lexa) and trans-masc Roman (Felix Mufti). The non-binary character Cal (Dua Saleh), whom we met in season three, explores their trans-masculine identity and we see them experience the effects of taking testosterone once they turned 18.

Sex Education is so cleverly written and performed that this apparent utopia also has its flaws. The first three seasons centred on “the Untouchables” – Ruby, Olivia and Anwar – who pride themselves on their put-downs and exclusivity. However, their character arcs revealed their complexities, vulnerabilities and occasional acts of kindness.

Season four, while showcasing and advocating kindness, also reveals the power dynamics at play. There is a hierarchy in every human interaction and Sex Education uses humour to poke fun at the hero worship directed at Abbi and Roman, and the exclusionary cliques that surround their group, the Coven. Meanwhile Otis enters into a rivalry with the college’s own sex therapist, O (Thaddea Graham) – a rivalry that is as much about ego as the desire to help.

Familiar characters and new directions

I’m currently co-editing a book on Sex Education with Professor Rob Stone, so I know the show well and this season confirms its place as one of the most radical and progressive on our screens. It continues to break boundaries in its portrayal of gender, sexual preferences and new identities.

But more care is taken in this series over characters with disabilities. Isaac (George Robinson), a wheelchair user who was previously a side character, is now central and an active member of Cavendish College, with his own narrative arc. Aisha (Alexandra James) is deaf and an integral member of the popular group.

As well as these additions, everything that fans of the series love is still there. We continue to be engaged by the core characters’ messy lives and loves. The show is still visually gorgeous, thanks to the backdrop of the Welsh countryside, and the bright and bold fashion choices continue to dazzle. The series has crafted fantastic characters that audiences have grown to love and care about, and the final season does not disappoint.

The Conversation via Reuters Connect


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