A riveting story of sexual harassment, powerful female friendships, and much-needed LGBTQ+ storylines pepper the Netflix series
“The queue to the pub toilet,” says Emma Mackey, who plays Maeve in the Netflix smash-hit show Sex Education, when I ask her where the weirdest place she’s been recognised by fans. “Queues are the worst. They’re like, ‘have I seen you somewhere?’ And I’m like, ‘I just want to go to the toilet’.”
It’s only been a year since season one, but it’s clear that life is very different for the cast of Sex Education. “I definitely felt the pressure coming back,” says Dazed100 alum Ncuti Gatwa, who plays Eric Effiong in the series. “For all of us, because the show had such an impact – and an overwhelmingly positive one at that – there’s always the worry: ‘Will people like the second one as much as they did the first?’”
Premiering on the streaming platform today, series two of the endearing, unflinching show continues to break boundaries and explore the realities of adolescent sex and relationships. “Sex is not something that should be considered dirty, or something you should keep a secret,” Asa Butterfield, who portrays protagonist and teen sex therapist Otis Milburn, declares. “It’s literally the reason we’re all here. The more we can normalise not just sex, but everything that comes along it – the before and after; the emotion and physicality – and present it in an honest way, the better.”
Sex Education first aired in January 2019, and explored everything from female masturbation, abortion, and vaginismus, to revenge porn, queer identity, and performance anxiety. Season two tackles even more vital issues infrequently addressed in actual sex education, including pansexuality, sexual assault, self-harm, and much more.
“We’re really lucky,” the show’s writer Laurie Nunn explains, “because we work with a professional sex educator who feeds back on all of our scripts, so we’re getting lots of guidance throughout the writing process. Because ‘education’ is in the title of the show, I think it’s very important that the information we’re getting across is correct and not harmful, and that young people won’t feel alienated by what they’re watching.”
Ahead of the series’ premiere, the cast and creators of Sex Education reveal some details on what fans can look forward to in season two – “I’m excited for the gasps,” laughs Connor Swindells, who plays the sexually confused former school bully Adam Groff – so, before you binge all eight episodes, here’s a glimpse of what you can expect.
COMPLICATED LOVE TRIANGLES
In season two, everyone’s fave Eric finally seems to have found love with Moordale High’s new French student Rahim (Sami Outalbali), but there’s one problem: he’s still pining after Adam. At the end of the first series (spoiler alert), Eric and his bully Adam ended up having sex while locked away in detention, though their relationship was never able to blossom as Adam was shipped off to military school by his father. Back at home, the pair are faced with another spanner in the works by way of Eric’s new boyfriend – but which love interest should we be rooting for? “I have a soft spot for Adam,” Butterfield admits, “but there’s obviously a whole lot of conflict there.” Gatwa – shocked – quickly interrupts: “What do you mean you’ve got a soft spot for Adam?!” Clarifying, Butterfield laughs: “No, as in me... Asa (not Otis). When I was watching season one I always felt bad for Adam – he’s a confused kid and he’s misunderstood.” Gatwa concludes: “They’re both so different and they each represent such different things to Eric – both things that he needs, so I don’t know. I’m going to have to watch it, assess the kissing, and then I’ll make my decision.”
“I think Ola is a wonderful, sunshine character and is far too generous with Otis. I think he’s a bit of a dick, to be honest” – Emma Mackey
Eric, Rahim, and Adam aren’t the only characters involved in a love triangle. Carrying on where the first series left off is the battle between Maeve Wiley (Mackey) and Ola Nyman (Patricia Allison) for Otis’ affection – though Mackey doesn’t quite see the appeal. “All three of them as individuals actually need to grow up,” she declares. “I think Ola is a wonderful, sunshine character and is far too generous with Otis. I think he’s a bit of a dick, to be honest.” Friends in real life – who had to be told to stop holding hands while shooting a scene as rivals – Mackey and Allison are pleased that Nunn offered the girls a more nuanced relationship that wasn’t centred on, as Allison puts it, the idea of “we’re girls and we hate each other”.
One of the best episodes in season two of Sex Education sees the female protagonists, including Maeve and Ola, form an unlikely group alliance. Locked together in detention, the girls end up bonding over their shared experiences of sexual harassment – something most, if not all, female viewers can identify with. “I wanted to highlight what it feels like to move through the world (as a woman),” Nunn explains of her reason for writing the storyline, “and from such a young age to know that you’re not entirely safe.”
“Sisterhood, bonding, and empowerment are definitely things I take away from this season,” Mackey reveals. “I just feel like it’s rare to see lots of strong, very different women all in one room together – and to see what happens is quite magical.” As well as being part of a vital and relatable storyline, Allison says the detention scene, and follow-up where they smash vases and appliances in a junkyard were some of the best to film in season two. “When we were filming all the girl bits, we spent three days together in one location, so we all really bonded. I missed it when we went back to film with all the boys – it just wasn’t the same!” Nunn and director/producer Ben Taylor agree, with the latter saying, “by the end of those three days, you just wish that…” before Nunn interrupts with: “... you could have a whole series set in that detention!
Charming school jock Jackson Marchetti, played by Kedar Williams-Stirling, also goes on an unexpected journey in season two, as he tries to up his grades and find a passion outside of swimming. On the way he meets Viv (Chinenye Ezeudu) – a know-it-all who finds it impossible to flirt. “I think Jackson relates to people that are the opposite of him,” Kedar Williams-Stirling explains, “and Viv brings out that side of him. They don’t want anything from each other, and that lack of gain leads to vulnerability – emotionally he’s more available in a way I don’t even think he realises she brings.”
AWKWARD SEX SCENES
No teen show about sex education would be complete without a few awkward sex scenes – and in season two most of them fall to Otis and Ola. Though while these scenes are purposefully embarrassing to watch, this isn’t the feeling behind the camera. “You always feel so comfortable and safe,” Allison reveals, “and you’re not actually touching each other. It looks like we’re doing things to each other, but it’s just a table or something – you have to remember (that stuff is happening to you) and actually act really hard!” Butterfield agrees: “In this show, not very much makes it awkward anymore. The crew members probably feel more awkward than I do when I’m there going for it.” In order to create this safe environment, an intimacy co-ordinator is on set during all intimate scenes. “It’s such a relief to have that kind of person accompanying you in this kind of show,” Mackey admits, “because then we’re able to feel really empowered afterwards.” Allison adds: “You never have a fight scene without a fight director, so why would you have a sex scene without a sex director?”
PARENTS WHO ARE JUST AS FUCKED UP AS THE KIDS
As we all discover when we grow up, our parents are just as fucked up as us – and season two of Sex Education is no exception. From clubbing and camping to sabotage and sex, the parents have their fair share of wild storylines, with icon Gillian Anderson reprising her role as sex therapist – and Otis’ mum – Jean. “I really want the show to feel universal,” Nunn tells Dazed. “I want it to feel like anyone of any age can watch it and tap into that feeling of what it’s like to be a teenager. Also, I really do believe that our inner-teenager never leaves us, so that’s the theme I’m trying to dig into with the parents – they’re just as much of a mess as the kids are.” Swindells agrees: “Adults can relate to (Sex Education) because they can either laugh at it, relate to it from being young, or because they have kids who might be going through the same things.
“I hear all the time about families who’ve watched it in different rooms, then talk about it at breakfast,” Nunn laughs, “which is really nice. If the show is really about anything, it’s about trying to break down some of those boundaries and getting people to communicate more and be honest with each other.” Mackey – whose storyline centres on the return of her ex-drug addict mum – says one of her favourite aspects of season two is its focus on the teenagers’ home lives. “I don’t think it’s ever spoken about enough,” she says. “It’s all about what the teenagers go through, but actually there’s loads of other stuff going on at home which adds even more pressure to the already-crazy teen hormone system that’s going on.”
Season two is all about the characters figuring out who they are – as Adam and Ola battle with their sexuality, Eric is learning about love, Maeve is trying to find her place in a dysfunctional family, and Aimee has to rediscover her sexual desire. Continuing on from the first series, LGBTQ+ storylines take a much-needed centre stage, with the creators offering nuanced, thoughtful portrayals of individual characters. “I hope viewers see themselves reflected,” says Nunn. “When I was young, I was obsessed with teen movies and TV shows because I was a really awkward teenager at school and found it very difficult, so I went to that kind of content because it made me feel seen.”
While some grapple with their identities, season two sees Eric confidently and unapologetically become himself. “Often what we do in this world is group people that share an experience together entirely,” says Gatwa, “but all humans on this earth are a big mix of a whole lot of things. People come from all different backgrounds and Eric definitely represents a lot of intersections. For example, (with him and Rahim), you’ve got this young couple who are both openly gay, but think completely differently about religion, and that’s very interesting. I’m happy that Sex Education portays these type of relationships to be very nuanced, because before (on TV) they haven’t always been like that.”
A DEEPER DIVE INTO EACH CHARACTER
With more storylines outside of school and sex, season two of Sex Education invites viewers further into each character’s world and personality. This is especially true of Jackson, whose love of swimming no longer defines him. “It was great to explore a different side to him than we met in the first series,” Williams-Stirling tells Dazed. “To explore the multifaceted versions of him is so important because people can take from that what they will, and empathise and connect – especially being black. Black boys don’t feel like they could have certain topics of conversation because of their upbringing, so it feels healthy to represent that.”
Though struggling with the twists and turns of adolescence, Otis and Eric have blossomed since the first series. “His wisdom has improved,” says Butterfield of Otis, “and his social status in the school. Then on the obvious side, his sexual development has matured and he’s finally able to get past the barrier that’s been up his whole life.” Gatwa also reflects on his character’s development: “Eric is a little less keen to please everyone this season. He’s more comfortable within himself and unapologetic for taking up space and sticking up for himself, which I like.”
Taylor concludes: “We’re in a really lucky position where, for me, all these characters believably exist and are seen, and are beautifully serviced by Laurie without it ever really feeling like there’s an issue-based episode. (What’s been emoldening for me this season is the) reassurance that the cast would take everything that was being given to them and render it beautifully.”
Season two of Sex Education is now available to watch on Netflix