British love let­ter

Net­flix se­ries Sex Ed­u­ca­tion gives ’80s a U.K. vibe

Edmonton Journal - - YOU - MARK KENNEDY

Among the bumper crop of orig­i­nal se­ries de­but­ing this month on Net­flix is one that’s both a time warp and a transat­lantic hug. Sex Ed­u­ca­tion is like a clas­sic John Hughes high school com­edy bloomed in the United King­dom.

“It’s very much a con­tem­po­rary British love let­ter to Amer­i­can high school films,” says se­ries star Gil­lian An­der­son of X-Files fame.

In this quirky and re­fresh­ing se­ries, An­der­son and Asa But­ter­field play mother and son, each ex­plor­ing the con­tem­po­rary sex­ual land­scape. And the real land­scape for this of­ten frank dis­cus­sion is, well, not spe­cific.

The eight episodes of the first sea­son were shot mostly in south­east Wales. And while the ac­tors have English ac­cents, they throw around Amer­i­can foot­balls on cam­pus, wear let­ter jack­ets and plan for prom. The sound­track is rich in 1980s songs, from The Smiths to Billy Idol.

“It is this kind of Nowheresville,” said But­ter­field. “We don’t say where it is, and it’s got these rolling hills and these peo­ple dress a bit like they’re from the ’80s. It has kind of got a time­less vibe to it.”

But­ter­field plays a smart but awk­ward 16-year-old stu­dent who has had lit­tle sex­ual ex­pe­ri­ence, de­spite liv­ing with his sex ther­a­pist mom. “He’s like this sex wiz­ard, but he is cursed with the in­abil­ity to do any­thing with all this in­for­ma­tion,” But­ter­field said of his char­ac­ter.

He teams up with a smart bad girl to cre­ate an un­der­ground sex ther­apy clinic us­ing the knowl­edge he’s ab­sorbed over the years. There’s plenty of nu­dity and blunt ex­am­i­na­tion of ev­ery­thing from same-sex love to abor­tion to wet dreams. Net­flix it­self de­scribes the show as “heart­felt, raunchy and ir­rev­er­ent.”

An­der­son plays blunt sin­gle mom Jean whose home is filled with sex man­u­als and toys. She’s so open about the topic that she has no prob­lem snoop­ing around her son’s bed­room or ask­ing em­bar­rass­ing ques­tions about his sex­u­al­ity while they ’re watch­ing a movie.

“I don’t of­ten get to mix odd with com­edy. My odd char­ac­ters have been quite se­ri­ous and dis­turb­ing, and so jump­ing into some­thing that had that to of­fer was def­i­nitely a plus, I think,” she said.

Sex Ed­u­ca­tion was cre­ated and writ­ten by Lau­rie Nunn, who shows a knack for the of­ten-sav­age food chain of teenage pop­u­lar­ity and a sym­pa­thetic eye for its hor­mon­al­ad­dled mem­bers. Her hu­mour shines, too, as when one stu­dent, who has in­gested too much Vi­a­gra, an­nounces: “I feel light-headed, and I can taste scampi.”

The se­ries also ben­e­fits from some ris­ing tal­ent, in­clud­ing Emma Mackey as a smart out­cast (she cor­rects the gram­mar in graf­fiti that tar­gets her) and Ncuti Gatwa, play­ing But­ter­field’s best friend and moral com­pass. ( When asked by But­ter­field’s char­ac­ter what he should wear for a date, Gatwa replies: “Think Jon Hamm, but chilled. Like ca­sual Hamm.”)

An­der­son said she was at­tracted to a show that ex­plored the com­mon is­sues as­so­ci­ated with pu­berty, in all its joy and messi­ness. She noted the se­ries comes at a time when so­ci­ety is em­brac­ing every­one be­ing who they are.

An­der­son and But­ter­field both hope Net­flix will green light a se­cond sea­son and send them back to Wales. But even if it doesn’t hap­pen, An­der­son — a mother to three, in­clud­ing a boy ap­proach­ing pu­berty — is grate­ful for the roadmap of what NOT to do.

“I think there are some def­i­nite dif­fer­ences in Jean’s par­ent­ing skills than mine,” she said, laugh­ing. “So it felt as much like an ed­u­ca­tion for me ob­serv­ing the emo­tional tra­jec­tory of Asa’s re­la­tion­ship with Jean.”

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