Every high school series has a natural shelf life, mainly because its cast members can’t play teenagers forever. There are moments in Sex Education‘s fourth and final season when the disconnect is distracting: this bold comedy-drama loves to investigate the messy imperfections of teenage life, but its authenticity is dented slightly now that some actors – talented as they are – look older than the characters they’re playing. It’s a shame to say goodbye while Sex Education still feels vital, but creator Laurie Nunn probably made the right decision to call time before her students start to resemble teachers.
Initially, season four feels more transitional than final. Most of the main characters including Otis (Asa Butterfield), Eric (Ncuti Gatwa), Aimee (Aimee Lou Wood) and Jackson (Kedar Williams-Stirling) have graduated from Moordale Secondary – home for seasons one to three – to the altogether fancier Cavendish Sixth Form College. Sex Education has always been set in what Nunn calls a “heightened world” – one where present-day British teenagers wear retro clothes straight out of a John Hughes movie – but the new backdrop is even more stylised. With its smoothie bar, ubiquitous touch screens and entrance hall slide, Cavendish looks like a wellness retreat for tech bros, and jokes poking fun at the school’s progressive values feel off-brand. After all, Sex Education has always prided itself on being forward-thinking.
Thankfully, the season finds its warm and witty rhythm when the writers return to their regular M.O. – exploring awkward aspects of sex and sexuality in a unique unselfconscious way. Episode one’s hilarious set piece hinges on the fact that some dickpics are neither arousing nor particularly nice to look at, while episode two helpfully points out that a guy who likes “a finger up the bum” isn’t necessarily queer. Sex Education also strikes a further blow for LGBTQ+ representation by introducing a trans power couple, Abbi (Anthony Lexa) and Roman (Felix Mufti), who can be just as passive-aggressive as any cishet cool kids. Scenes showing Cal (Dua Saleh) grappling with the side effects of their testosterone treatment are funny and informative: this show at its best.
At times, the writers still struggle to juggle the show’s large and disparate cast. It doesn’t help that Maeve (Emma Mackey) is now studying in America, where she has a jaded tutor played by Schitt’s Creek star Dan Levy, and Adam (Connor Swindells) is sidelined because he’s decided to leave school. Meanwhile, a storyline following Jean (Gillian Anderson) as she adapts to becoming a mum again probably belongs in a different show. Still, all is forgiven whenever we get a knockout moment like Jackson being wanked off to the strains of T’Pau’s ’80s cheeseball ‘China In Your Hand’ (lolz). Farewell, Sex Education, and thanks for the messy memories.
‘Sex Education’ season four is streaming now on Netflix