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Review: ‘Sex Education,’ a Sweet Teen Comedy of Modern Lust

Category: Art & Culture,Arts

It’s also generous in scope. Past teen comedies tended to be about the desires of male virgins like Otis and their struggles to get laid. “Sex Education” centers and decenters Otis; he’s the protagonist but more comfortable observing and listening, as a supporting player in others’ stories.

One of the strongest arcs belongs to Eric (Ncuti Gatwa), his gay best friend, with whom Otis has an annual date to dress up in drag and watch “Hedwig and the Angry Inch.” Eric, exuberant but naïve, isn’t just discovering his sexuality but learning what he likes and how to present himself in the world. There’s a great small moment where Eric, who is black, admires the “fierce” nail polish on an older black man who cheerfully advises him, “Stick to the jewel tones.”

Dealing with homophobia is part of Eric’s journey, but not the sum of it. He’s picked on at school, not for being gay but for being a band geek who once got a public erection, earning him the nickname “Tromboner.” (An unfair label; he plays the French horn.)

“Sex Education” has a knack for introducing characters as stereotypes, then complicating them: jocks have anxieties; nerds have lusts; mean girls and bullies have sympathetic backgrounds. Maeve, in particular, is exquisitely drawn — she’s smart, tough and outcast both for being poor and for being a girl who has sex and likes it.

Sex Education,” unafraid to have fun and be funny, is less like its stark British predecessor “Skins” than like a well-executed American teen dramedy on CW. The big difference, of course, is its streaming-TV freedom to be as graphic as it wants to be — and it wants to be, from its opening seconds.

Like “Big Mouth,” “Sex Education” is a birds-and-bees comedy I’d endorse for both teenagers and parents of teenagers, but fair warning: If your sense of boundaries is as expansive as Jean’s, you could enjoy it together. If you’re more like Otis, I’d suggest watching separately.

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