In the final series, the students of Moordale find themselves on a brand new campus where inclusion and sex positivity reign. Read our Sex Education season 4 review here.
Review by Rose Morelli
Vulvas, virginity, venereal disease… if it’s awkward and pubescent, it will have had its moment on Sex Education, which is concluding after four seasons on Netflix.
In its final series, this spunky Netflix hit tries to cover an ambitious amount of ground, incorporating a whole host of new characters, settings and topics into its colourful world. Not entirely pulling it off, the show’s concluding moments feel claustrophobic at times, and was even cursory when breaching certain issues. However, despite its swollen ensemble, this fleshy show manages to reach a decent climax — even with the obstacles it sets for itself.
In this series, the students of Moordale have enrolled at the uber-progressive Cavendish College. The utopian, student-led campus is worlds away from their previous school, where abstention was policy and bullies ran rampant. Cavendish is modern, inclusive and sex-positive to the Nth degree: seemingly the perfect place for Eric (Ncuti Gatwa) to embrace his queer side, and Otis (Asa Butterfield) to deploy his sex therapy skills. Herein, we meet plenty of fresh new faces.
Maeve (Emma Mackey) is also now studying stateside, working under egotistical writer Thomas Molloy (Dan Levy) at a prestigious American school. Meanwhile, Otis’ sex-therapist mother, Jean (Gillian Anderson) is struggling to reconcile postnatal life with the sudden intrusion of her sister, Joanna (Lisa McGrillis). Some notable faces from previous series are missing without much explanation, but thankfully, it’s not too noticeable with so many new characters and stories to chew on.
Presenting a more dark and cerebral version of itself, the final season feels like the show has graduated from its own adolescence. Like any pubescent journey, the end product is a more controlled, refined version of its roots. The hammy teenage archetypes from series one have now developed into complex young adults, able to pull off more cynical, risqué thoughts and jokes. Even with its newfound darkness, the show’s looks are still saturated to perfection. With sets and costumes that spoke directly to their queer and Gen-Z audiences, the amped colour and verve stopped this from just becoming another dingy teen drama.
The LGBTQ+ character research was also very maturely conducted, and steered with a smooth narrative hand. The high level of trans and non-binary representation in this series also showed great consideration, maintaining thoughtful dialogue that accurately reflected the realities of trans/non-binary life in the UK.
The show has always relied on its strong core cast to deliver both jokes and tragedy, and the last season is no exception and there are some really strong, standout performances this season. As expected, the ensemble is largely carried by chronic scene-stealer (and our new Doctor Who!) Ncuti Gatwa: an undeniable star in the making, capable of conveying plight and boisterous comedy in one fell swoop. Emma Mackey also delivers a subtle but weighty performance as the precocious Maeve, and Mimi Keene puts her best comedic foot forward to show a wry, relatable side to queen-bee Ruby.
The major detriment of this series is its unmanaged breadth of issues. Notably a former praise point for the show, Sex Education’s enthusiasm for wide representation has now mutated into a bit of a narrative hindrance. Having written itself into an awkward corner at the end of series three, this series had to contend with both introducing and concluding several new settings and characters. That responsibility leaves a lot of the already established arcs feeling a little neglected, ending some issues and stories almost four years in the making on an often cursory tone.
While some issues— like the inaccessibility of trans and non-binary care on the NHS —are deftly handled, other issues also feel largely shoehorned in. Rushing through important topics like historic sexual abuse, controlling relationships and disabled inclusivity, some very capable cast members are also denied their moment to shine. Gillian Anderson is largely shortchanged this series, lumped with the uninspiring role of postnatal mother and weary sister. It’s a disappointing turn after four years of solid character-building.
Despite its flaws, however, this is a show that always has and continues to inject a net amount of good into the world, doing worthy work to dispel taboos and serve marginalised groups. Given its smash-hit success, I do hope we’ll see more shows like Sex Education in the future — particularly at a time when intolerance seems to be on the rise in Britain. I’m happy to take the occasional hammy list of social issues, as long as it means we get more television that uses unapologetic honesty to both educate and entertain.
I probably could have done without the full-frontal dick pics in episode one, though. That was just puerile.
Sex Education season 4 is now streaming on Netflix.