‘Sex Education’ Is More Turned on and Wickedly Smart in Season 2

The second season of Netflix’s “Sex Education” wastes no time and gets started with a school panicking over a chlamydia outbreak. It’s the perfect introduction for a season with more energy and wit than the satisfying first. Bolder in its use of sexuality and funnier in its social satire, it demonstrates how you can be risqué with good taste. 

Class is back in session at Moordale. Otis (Asa Butterfield) walks into school with friend Eric (Ncuti Gatwa) confronted by halls in panic. There’s a chlamydia outbreak and no one can pinpoint the responsible party. Even worse, students and even parents barely seem to understand how chlamydia works and urban legends soon sprout. Otis is having his own crisis, constant erections which require constant masturbation. The situation becomes more stressful when girlfriend Ola (Patricia Allison) also comes back but doesn’t inspire a rise in Otis. The only person in town who can provide some kind of coherent explanation for the outbreak, and maybe give Otis advice he’ll never ask for is of course his mother, renowned sex therapist Jean Milburn (Gillian Anderson). But unbeknown to Otis, Jean is now dating someone, and it happens to be Ola’s dad. Also coming back on the scene is the brilliant but scrappy Maeve (Emma Mackey), who threatens Moordale with exposing that she’s written most of the class’s prize-winning essays unless they let her back in. When Otis sees her again he also realizes where his feelings might truly be inspired.

It would be unfair to classify “Sex Education” as raunch. It’s simply more upfront and funny in a way John Hughes might have filmed this kind of bold material. The season opens with a quite brilliant montage of Otis waking up excited and constantly needing to find relief, whether in the shower or while biking to school. Notice how the cinematography and music combine for something that is hilariously familiar, instead of being just a nasty joke. Even when panicked students reach out to Otis for advice on chlamydia, the dialogue is simply a sharp take on crowd panic. No one knows if you can transfer it by breathing or releasing into someone’s eyeball. The teenagers sound like teenagers, grappling with puberty’s relentless assaults. Otis unable to get aroused by Ola would be an embarrassing bit in a lesser show or movie, here it’s more of an expression of how his heart seems to tilt more towards Maeve, who ran a sex therapy business with him last season before spiraling into a complicated love triangle that didn’t end so well. It’s a tricky situation emotionally and one of the joys of this show is how it captures such story elements visually. Instead of saying it out loud, we see how Otis glances at Maeve the moment she walks down a hallway.

Every new storyline introduced this season also flows well into what’s already been established. Maeve wants to return to school after having been expelled last season but her life is shaken by the return of deadbeat mother Erin (Anne-Marie Duff), who wants to prove after a year that she’s really clean. Once promising athlete Jackson (Kedar Williams-Stirling) is swallowed by mental health issues which make us wonder if he can ever truly return to the swimming pool. “Sex Education” also proves again it is a platform for serious issues with a story about assault involving Aimee (Aimee Lou Wood) that casts a darker shadow in the narrative. There’s a charming new storyline involving Adam falling for a handsome new student that steals every eye in the school hallway as well. Stoic Jean, now in a serious relationship, is also allowed to reveal an even deeper side to her character and Gillian Anderson’s performance is always polished perfection. Anderson, still best known for her iconic 90’s status in “The X-Files,” has left a great mark on television with astounding work in shows as diverse as “American Gods” and “The Fall.” “Sex Education” lets her perform with a cool-headed intelligence that hides very fragile emotions.

Graced with a fun 80’s-inspired soundtrack, “Sex Education” delivers a second season that confirms this show could go on for a longer haul. Teenage viewers can appreciate the way it takes them seriously, almost functioning as its own form of sexual therapy. “Sex Education” understands that you can make a show or film about anything at all, the trick is how you go about it. Its characters brim with life, the humor is sharp and it knows how to discuss the birds and bees. 

Sex Education” season two begins streaming Jan. 17 on Netflix.