This is a spoiler-free review for Season 3 of Sex Education, which premieres Friday, Sept. 17 on Netflix.
Otis, Eric, Maeve, Jackson, and the rest of the so-called degenerates at Moordale Secondary School are back for a third helping of Sex Education, a series that miraculously combines lewd laughs, rom-com tropes, therapeutic wisdom, and cringe comedy all in one go. Sex Education works on both a broad slapstick level, but also on a very specific one, where it’s still able to whisper into your heart. It’s uniquely wrenching and joyous, and Season 3 builds the world of the show out even more.
Sex Education is definitely a series that pays dividends. Not just because it torments us with the slow-burn “will they/won’t they” romance between Asa Butterfield’s Otis and Emma Mackey’s Maeve, but because it’s picked up stragglers along the way. These aren’t just new characters who’ve entered the mix and become a crucial part of the festivities, but also side characters who’ve managed to meld their way into the story in a more layered fashion, usually in the form of old antagonists made more human and sympathetic. Even this season’s new “villain” comes with sneaky vulnerabilities.
Because of this, Sex Education keeps expanding like a beautiful balloon, becoming more loving, inclusive, and complex. Otis hasn’t quite lost his status as the lead, but we’re much more far removed now from the original premise of “what kind of problems would the teen son of a sex therapist have?” The show has transformed into a truer ensemble, though it still retains some of its underlying episodic qualities, despite Otis and Maeve’s “sex clinic” taking a break and leaving us without a clear entry point for a case/sex question of the day.
Another way Sex Education has blossomed season-to-season is in the full absorption and inclusion of adult characters and their specific sexual gaffes and follies. Now that Gillian Anderson’s Jean is fully in the “I f***ed up” swirl of the story, the show is able to explore her and her severe aversion to domestic intimacy and lack of control to its fullest. Now pregnant, as it was dramatically revealed at the end of Season 2, Jean’s life — along with the worlds of Otis, Jakob, and Ola — becomes hugely more complicated and compelling. Likewise, we continue to explore Alistair Petrie’s Headmaster Michael Groff and his fall from grace following Season 2’s literal theatrics and, within this, uncover a bit of redemption for him as well.
Sex Education: Season 3 Gallery
Speaking of Groff, when we last left off, the Moordale school had unleashed quite the production on the students, parents, and donors: Lily’s graphic and fantastical Romeo and Juliet erotica musical. Now labeled as deviants from the “sex school,” Moordale’s students arrive back after a lust-filled summer (even Otis finds a regular, er, dance partner, as it were) to a regime change. Groff is gone and a groovy new “wanna be your best friend” Headmistress, Hope (Girls’ Jemima Kirke), stands in his place. But she’s a wolf hiding behind a smile, and will soon inflict her draconian Dolores Umbridge rules on the student body in ways that, yes, also include their student bodies. Moordale’s titular sex education takes a nasty trip back in time, regressing about a hundred years.
When a line is placed down the center of every school hallway, to force kids into a single-file line, Eric’s ex, Rahim (Sami Outalbali) wisely states “It’s never just a line.” In short, this is how repressive and bigoted policies begin, with something seemingly innocuous. As Dua Saleh joins the series as a non-binary student named Cal, whom Kedar Williams-Stirling’s Jackson finds himself instantly drawn to, Sex Education stretches its wings open even further to pull gender identity issues into its meaningful methods of discourse, acknowledgement, and advancement.
Maeve, given her outsider status and serious family concerns, has been a tricky character to handle with regards to the other teens. But as Sex Education’s only swelled to include characters from all over town (Jason Isaacs even guests this year as Michael’s bullying brother), meaning more and more peeks into people’s home situations, Maeve’s trailer park set feels less of an offshoot and more a part of the overall tapestry.
Ncuti Gatwa and Connor Swindells find a ton of tenderness within Eric and Adam’s newfound relationship, while also playing characters at different points in their emotional development and confidence. At the same time, Aimee Lou Wood’s Aimee makes an earnest go at dealing with her trauma, Patricia Allison’s Ola and Tanya Reynolds’ Lily discover some romantic obstacles of their own, a handful of characters take life-changing trips to both France and Nigeria, and Isaac — well — the series smartly deals with Isaac’s Season 2 finale whoopsie in a frank and refreshing manner.
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In a show that leans into a lot of awkward moments of utter misunderstanding — be it some text message snafu or otherwise — Isaac is on the precipice of being regrettably malicious, which is not usually how Sex Education plays things. Even its love triangles feature competitors you care about, so Isaac’s bold message-erasure is handled well. The series’ core strength, aside from its supremely fun and raunchy gimmick, remains the characters, the ones we’ve loved from the beginning and the ones we’ve grown to love over time. Time spent with them as they journey and grow is the reward.