At one point in the season premiere of Sex Education, the camera scans over a full auditorium of students and teachers, watching an a capella performance of Jermaine Stewart’s “We Don’t Have To Take Our Clothes Off,” but before it even makes it to the stage, we see a young couple making out furiously in the balcony above. It’s an appropriately casual reminder that this show features probably the horniest teens on television — at least the horniest teens on Netflix, and that is saying something.
The season one finale of the series did what so many shows end up doing at that point: explode the established status quo. So season two begins with Otis saying loudly that he is out of the sex advice business and estranged from friend and business partner Maeve (now expelled from school). But, most crucially, he is finally in touch with the sexual energy he needs to take matters into his own hands and discover that orgasms feel good.
And boy, does Sex Education make sure we know about it, in a beautifully edited opening montage paying tribute to Otis’s newfound sexuality (set to, of course, a cover of “I Touch Myself” by Scala and Kolacny Brothers). To be clear, I am writing this as a cis woman over the age of 30; I have never had the experience of being a teenage boy just discovering (as Eric puts it later) “the wonders of your own penis.” But after watching that sequence — and this episode in general — I have immense sympathy for those who have gone through it.
Otis coping with the unleashing of this particular genie is a major part of the episode, as he continually has to rush off to deal with unwelcome arousal. But unrelated to this, um, hardship is a problem that ends up bringing him out of sex education retirement: When a school-wide panic about a chlamydia outbreak gets unfairly targeted at a girl from the choir named Fiona, Otis finds himself not only divulging medically accurate information about the transmission of the disease (while quickly reminding people that he no longer is a practicing amateur teenage sex therapist), but also helping Fiona prove that she isn’t the source of the outbreak.
Meanwhile, Maeve is splattering pretzels with chocolate drizzle at the local mall, but an encounter with her estranged mother — claiming to be sober for a year, though Maeve doesn’t believe her — pushes her to dye her hair brown and find a way to get back into school. Blackmail isn’t perhaps the most ethical means of doing so, but it proves effective after she threatens to expose just how many of the school’s top students have used her essays to cheat. She’s back in class, and by the end of the episode also working with Otis again to restart the clinic properly. (Eric wasn’t the best assistant.) But her social status is in flux.
Otis and Eric end up interviewing many of their fellow students to try to identify the real patient zero; the ultimate culprit ends up being Owen, an awkward kid embarrassed by his STI status on top of being “uncool and boring,” which is why he lied about being infected. What Otis tells Owen reflects something his mother Jean says at a school assembly meant to quell parental panic about the STI outbreak: the tools for healthy sexual activity are “trust, talking, and truth.”
Of course, Jean and Otis hit a bit of a speed bump this episode when it comes to those things, as a calamitous (yet hilarious) confrontation between her, her son, her son’s girlfriend Ola, and Ola’s father Jakob leads to a smashed coffee table, immense embarrassment for everyone involved, and the revelation that Jean and Jakob are in an actual relationship. Otis is stunned by the fact that his mother is in a relationship that goes beyond casual sex, and things promise to get even more awkward for them in the future — because Jean’s been asked to help rewrite the school’s sex education program, just as Otis is restarting his own practice (so to speak).
It’s a really strong premiere, to be clear, nimbly picking up on last season while setting up plenty of drama for the next seven episodes — and also delivering some impeccably staged beats of physical comedy. It’s hard to get laughs out of ejaculation without it feeling too crude, but Otis’s awkward moment in the parking lot features perfect timing as well as the hilarity of Gillian Anderson’s horrified reaction; and the four-way madness of the mother and son and father and daughter all discovering each other in flagrante spurred real laughs. Sex Education has such a keen grasp on how sex can sometimes seem like both the most serious and the most silly thing at the same time. Hopefully, the rest of the season is just as fun and sincere.
All the Good Things and the Bad Things That May Be
• Real talk: Does the music supervisor for this show just have a massive Spotify playlist on hand featuring interesting covers of songs that use the word “sex” in the lyrics? Because that’s what it feels like when you watch this show.
• One of 2019’s best miniseries was HBO/BBC’s Years and Years, and so it was a treat to see T’Nia Miller appear in this episode. No idea if she’ll continue to have a significant role, but in the meantime, y’all, go watch Years and Years.
• It’s a weird thing to say, but yeah, brie is probably the sexiest cheese, so, you know, no shame, Otis.
• Only a casual mention of Adam here, as Headmaster Groff tells Eric that his son will no longer be around to bully him. That is of course not the news Eric was looking for, and as Eric deserves only good things in life, it’s one of the episode’s sadder moments.
• One of the strongest aspects of Sex Education is its ensemble of oddballs, and their queen is Lily. She doesn’t get a ton to do in this episode, but Tanya Reynolds still reliably steals every one of her scenes, especially when she gets her version of a Clueless/10 Things I Hate About You/Mean Girls/etc “guide the new kid through the social cliques” scene.
• Also, Lily is correct: Tank Girl is criminally underrated.
• Hi! Very excited to be digging into this season for Vulture! This is my first time recapping a binge-released season of television, but to be clear I will be writing each episode review in full before moving onto the next one — thus, be assured that any speculation or foreshadowing that might happen will have no actual spoilers for future episodes.