- A Review of The Calculated Destruction of Male Masculinity
Series cast summary:
Netflix, that very popular streaming service with the clandestine rating numbers, has given us some film properties of late that have challenged to status quo that has upset the norm of how we view entertainment. Series like Stranger Things, Black Mirror, 13 Reasons Why and movies like Bird Box and the Oscar-nominated Roma has flipped the conventional habit of how we are doing business these days. We have come to view in one sitting, an entire series in a given period. Such a practice would never have been considered fifteen years ago but we will sit for hours to consume a show rather than just savor the moment. One such binge-watching series on Netflix is called Sex Education.
With such a provocative title, you’d think there would be lots of titillation going on in this eight-part series. You would be, however, mislead as you slowly invest hours into an odd pairing of characters, convoluted narratives and a plot to dissolve away any and all forms of masculinity in a covert fashion. So, let us begin.
Gillian Anderson portrays Dr. Jean Milburn, a psychologist who specializes in human sexuality. She is a divorced single mother to 16-year-old Otis Milburn played by Asa Butterfield. Dr. Milburn is also sexually promiscuous as she has several lovers come in and out of her bed in the first few minutes of the series. Otis is the unfortunate witness to all of this as on several occasions, the overnight guests mistook his room for the bathroom and they barge into his bedroom. As I watched this interaction between Otis and these strangers, I felt something missing but couldn’t quite put my finger on it as to what it was. Otis is also a virgin and that adds to the level of angst for the 16-year-old as his mother, the noted sex counselor, wants to know everything about her son’s issues as he goes through puberty.
Otis attends this odd nondescript high school in some European setting and he has a best friend, Eric, who happens to be gay, played by Ncuti Gatwa. I found this unusual not because of the gay/straight relationship but the fact that Otis didn’t have any other friends he associated with at the high school nor did Eric. In a normal setting, teens would be in groups and would have more than one friend that they would associate with. And given that Otis is straight and Eric is gay, I didn’t see any convincing commonality on the pairing.
Rounding off the cast is Emma Mackey who plays 17-year-old troubled student, Maeve Wiley. Connor Swindells plays Adam Groff, the headmasters troubled son. Alistar Petrie is the headmaster, Mr. Groff and Aimee Lee Woods plays Aimee Gibbs, Adam’s former girlfriend. Now keep in mind that Sex Education is supposed to be about the interactions and dynamics of16 and 17-year-old teens but the reality is that none of these “teens” looked like teens but instead looked all of the hard 20 something that they are. So that particular scenario was a couple of points removed from the suspension of being believable.
But what is the catalyst that gets Sex Education its start? Well, Adam is having sex with his girlfriend, Aimee but he is having a hard time coming. He even fakes an orgasm just to end the sex. Adam is frustrated, angry and is a bully. A typical trope we’ve seen a thousand times in teen movies. Because he can’t come, he targets Eric and takes his food and money. Adam later goes after Otis and winds up confronting Otis in a part of the school restroom that looks abandoned. Maeve uses it as her fortress of solitude in one of the empty stalls. She is there when Adam starts to discuss his problem with Otis. Otis starts to use some of his mother’s language and Adam thinks the advice is sound enough for him to accept. The only thing is that Adam takes the advice literally and he proceeds to get on a table in the cafeteria and tells his classmates his issue and proceeds to drop his pants to reveal his big dick, from his point, is the problem. That exposing himself in front of the student body gets him into trouble with the law and the school but his father smooths it over with the law and places Adam on some strict settings. This doesn’t make Adam any more pliable but more aggressive.
Maeve, on the other hand, sees this as an opportunity to make money. With many of the teens having sex problems, Otis can become their sex therapist. Otis eventually agrees to this but he must protest first for the sake of the story. Before I go on, let me just say that the title, Sex Education, is totally misleading. If you were to think that this is nothing more than teens talking about sex, just dismiss that notion. You are going to have to wait until episode three before any discussion of sex is initiated and even then, it’s clinical. In fact, most of the sex, nudity, and language is nothing shocking. It’s like all of the hype surrounding Fifty Shades of Grey. Once you saw it, it was totally boring.
Otis starts to develop feelings for Maeve as they start to work closer and closer. Maeve, on the other hand, has been having unprotected sex with the school jock. She gets pregnant and we go along with her through the abortion process. Oh, and Maeve has been living by herself in a trailer park for a while now as she has no parents to speak of. She does have a neer-do-well brother who comes back into the picture later on. The jock wants to get to know Maeve better and Otis ineptly tells him what Maeve likes and don’t like. He attempts to sabotage him but it backfires on Otis and Maeve winds up officially dating him instead of just being an occasional hookup.
Still, there was something about Sex Education that was throwing me off and then it finally hit me. There wasn’t any natural masculinity or any display of a normal Y chromosome. The men that slept with Otis’s mother didn’t display a Y chromosome. Every time you say one of her conquests, he was in her yellow bathrobe. Even one of them had an Oedipus complex. Otis doesn’t display a Y chromosome on several occasions. He never raises his voice in protest to the men who barge into his room thinking its the bathroom. He participates with Eric by dressing up in drag and going out for a movie event. He dances with Eric at a high school prom because they had a fight after Eric got beat up for dressing in drag. Eric’s father doesn’t display any Y chromosome as he lets his son put himself in harm’s way. Adam may have shown some Y chromosome but it is diminished when he has sex with Eric. Adam’s father also crushed Adam’s Y chromosome by being abusive. Keep in mind that I wasn’t looking for any high fuel testosterone from the likes of Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson and Jason Statham but the masculinity in this series was heavily muted. Even the jock in this series was living with two mothers and his masculinity was being crushed. It seems as if the topic of masculinity has become a bad thing these days and even displaying any is a bad thing and what better way to discourage it is to not show it. Unfortunately, this isn’t the real world and ignoring masculinity doesn’t mean you’re doing the world a service.
Now you would think that after a given period of time that the house of sex ed would implode and they would get caught but no. There is no hint of impending disaster form any authority figure or parental unit. There is one case of attempted blackmail but that had nothing to do with doling out sex advice and it was handled with efficiency. We do get signs of failure due solely on the failure of communication in the peer group and the misunderstanding that comes with immaturity. Ou will become frustrated at the ending as it begins to converge on too many alternate routes. It doesn’t end on a cliffhanger, it ends on a shelf with some aging cheese. In the end, you really don’t root for Otis because Otis still has issues, unresolved issues that he needs to figure out.