Binge-r #122: Sex Education + Fyre
SEX EDUCATION S1
Streaming Service: Netflix
Availability: All eight episodes now streaming
Like Law & Order, each episode of this Netflix series commences with a cold open, but instead of a dead body being discovered in Manhattan very lively teenagers in Britain are struggling to enjoy sex together. The focus is on frustrated youth, not the voyeurism of young bodies, and the unlikely detective who eventually provides a solution is Otis (Asa Butterfield), a gawky 16-year-old virgin who has a wealth of practical knowledge and a caring tone courtesy of his mother, Jean (Gillian Anderson), a sex and relationship therapist who has been discussing her work with him for years. “She helps people bone better,” Asa explains to a schoolmate, and the value in this engaging comedy is how it clears the decks with frankness, but then circles back to warmly detail the characters and their lives.
With her first show creator Laurie Nunn has made something consistently surprising and idiosyncratic: it has a sex-positive outlook, with dissatisfaction and embarrassment as the threat instead of sexual trauma, and is often witty, updating the high school comedy while nodding to the genre’s past with an alternate John Hughes soundtrack. It rattles a little at first, throwing together Otis, who has his own sexual hang-ups he’s determined not to discuss with Jean, with the hard as nails Maeve (Emma Mackey), who sets him up in business as a teenage sex therapist so that she can support herself with her cut of their take. His very English awkwardness suggests the Hugh Grant academy has a new student.
You’ll want more of Anderson, looking iconic as a platinum blonde and adding comic punctuation as a lovingly unorthodox single mother who can’t help intruding, but everything snaps together with a cracking third episode that highlights the program’s deceptive strengths by being set in part inside and outside an abortion clinic while Otis’ gay best friend, Eric (Ncuti Gatwa), is having his own “this one time, at band camp” moment with a fellow member of the school’s swing music group. Bit parts evolve from provocateur to intriguing person, and the tone takes in hilarious missteps and tender camaraderie so that they depict different sides of the same difficult situation.
The nominal setting is a verdant, cheerful corner of Wales, although the production design and outlines leans towards American archetypes so as to make the show more familiar in Netflix’s homeland. What you realise is that Sex Education plays fast and loose with what it considers minor elements, such as the amorphous setting, but displays a huge affection and responsibility to what it values, such as the lively ensemble cast and the notion that sex – across a wide spectrum of orientation and issues – is something to be valued and enjoyed. These frisky teens are sometimes a step ahead of the adult world, discovering the need for both communication and good technique, and I liked this series so much that I’ll end this review with a firm recommendation rather than a cheap pun.
NEWLY ADDED MOVIES
Fyre (Netflix, 2019, 98 minutes): Putting the con into concert, Fyre Festival was a luxury American music festival scheduled for The Bahamas in April 2017 that was cancelled as ticketholders arrived to find farcically inadequate preparation. It lived and died on social media: launched with a supermodel-stocked Instagram campaign and then documented imploding in real time by angry patrons. In this barbed, comprehensive documentary, director Chris Smith (The Yes Men) charts the rise and fall of Fyre, which began as a promotional effort for an app launched by entrepreneur Billy McFarland, whose motivations are best explained by the fact he’s currently doing a six year jail stint, and rapper Ja Rule. It’s damning about the distorting power of social media – “we’re selling a pipe dream to your average loser,” McFarland declares early on – and how start-up culture can lead to sociopathic derangement. Traumatised staffers and in house video footage provide no end of juicy detail, culminating in an event that one contributor accurately describes as “an elephant of a clusterfuck”. Smith cuts the glistening promotional footage back into the eventual outcome, so that the sizzle and the stake (to the heart) are finally united.
New on Netflix: Falsely dismissed as a romantic weepie, Derek Cianfrance’s The Light Between Oceans (2016, 132 minutes) is a West Australian-set period drama about the mistakes made in grief starring Alicia Vikander, Michael Fassbender, and Rachel Weisz; the Ghostbusters reboot (2016, 116 minutes) is a loopy, knowing supernatural comedy-adventure that expertly plays to the strengths of Melissa McCarthy, Kristen Wiig, Kate McKinnon, and Leslie Jones.
New on SBS on Demand: Hunger (2008, 92 minutes) was the breakthrough for artist turned filmmaker Steve McQueen and star Michael Fassbender, depicting with grim exactness and transcendent deprivation the IRA hunger strikes in 1980s Northern Ireland; scabrous and given to cartoonish sedition, Alex Cox’s Sid and Nancy (1986, 109 minutes) was punk rock’s first biopic, with Gary Oldman as Sex Pistols bassist Sid Vicious and Chloe Webb as his American girlfriend Nancy Spungen.
New on Stan: Raoul Peck’s Academy Award nominated documentary I Am Not Your Negro (2016, 94 minutes) is one of the best of recent years, using the writings of the author and activist James Baldwin to examine race relations in America; Avengers: Infinity War (2018, 144 minutes) is the first half of the epic culmination of Marvel’s superhero universe, uncomfortably welding together every character in a fight for galactic survival.
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