Ťhe third series of Sex Education (网飞) opens with a montage as celebratory/disgusting as its predecessor in season two (delete according to taste, though if you’re in the latter camp, you’re probably better off not watching a show called Sex Education). 然后, it was Otis (Asa Butterfield) discovering the pleasures of onanism. 这次, it’s everyone discovering the pleasures of everything from alien cosplay to VR porn. Miss Sands is even doing it with Colin on drums.
All seems to be well, as this glorious opening suggests that the various elements the show has always held in perfect balance will be happily united once more. Affection, ribaldry and humour laid over a responsible seriousness towards the lives and loves of its adolescent characters and a fearlessly unhip honesty about issues that face them has always been the USP of Laurie Nunn’s wonderful creation.
But the formula is so precise that its blending amounts almost to alchemy, and this series doesn’t work quite as well as the previous two. There is still much to love. Eric (Ncuti Gatwa) and Adam’s (Connor Swindells) relationship is the spine of the eight-episode run, and this part of the programme doesn’t put a foot wrong across all the emotional terrain it covers. The two actors, in a uniformly brilliant cast, are phenomenal.
Elsewhere, 尽管, the tone is increasingly off, the magic diminished. The script is less fleet, less funny and the therapy-speak that was once Otis’s province (for credible reasons, being the son of a sex therapist) seems to have infected the whole student body. Every momentary miscommunication is almost immediately identified, interrogated and resolved, which is nice for them but unrewarding for the viewer. There are several points at which the pedagogy the programme has avoided for so long creeps in – Amy’s vulvar education and passing on of her new wisdom being the most obvious. Every episode used to speed by but now each one feels very much its full hour long. The various sexual escapades, which were once just the gateway to exploring character and mining deeper truths, increasingly seem like an end in themselves.
The focus is wider (Jean and Jakob’s is one of the many adult relationships given more attention, and there are more students introduced too) and perhaps as a result the strokes are broader. New headteacher Hope (Jemima Kirke) is virtually a Disney-style villainess whose unconvincing – and even in non-Sex Education terms, unoriginal – backstory does nothing to humanise or complicate.
All that said, a sub-par Sex Education is still a good and joyful thing. Apart from the Eric-Adam storyline, other highlights include the developing relationship between Maeve (Emma Mackey) and Isaac (George Robinson, another standout performer since he joined in season two). There’s also the introduction of trans student Cal Bowman (Dua Saleh, in one of the most assured debuts I’ve ever seen) with whom Jackson (Kedar Williams-Stirling) feels an immediate bond but must work out for himself exactly what that bond comprises.
The series covers a lot of ground – as well as the emotional and hormonal journeys we also see how disability and poverty hamper people’s ability to use their talents and intelligence to the full, the importance of heritage and racial identity and the difficulties of navigating so many streams as they cross, and much more. 仍然, it’s hard to avoid reluctantly crossing out the A* and giving this term’s effort a B+.