I binged the rest of Sex Education this weekend. It’s an amazing show. Sex Education manages to strike the incredibly fine balance between comedy and intrigue. It’s a balance that makes the show feel lighthearted, but still enticing, enough to keep clicking the “Next Episode” button. When I first heard about Sex Education, I was really drawn to its creative and original premise. While this is still true, the real charm of the show comes from its characters. They are well crafted, and I love to watch the way these characters interact with each other, unearthing themes about friendship, young love, gender roles, and the inexplicable awkwardness of puberty.
Also, the costume designer WENT AWF on that school dance episode. Ola, my favourite character, gave me a Janelle Monae realness that I ate up. As Maeve, Emma Mackey looks gorgeous all the time, but I loved her in her black dress for the dance. I’m a big fan of this neckline too. The real winner of the night was whoever designed Eric’s regal, genderbending, culturally inspired outfit. The gold makeup? Those lips? That headpiece? Glorious! I hope whoever did this got a raise.
Costume Images- Mackey:
I just want to take a moment to appreciate @sexeducation's Eric, played so wonderfully by the incredibly talented @NcutiGatwa. A beautifully written queer character who is complex and dynamic, who has such a wonderful arc and a glow-up that still has me gagged. pic.twitter.com/ddJsUlxiCI— Netflix Canada (@Netflix_CA) January 21, 2019
Last week, I wrote about how I thought Sex Education might be a pioneer for gay representation. Unfortunately, I was way off the mark with that. Spoilers ahead. For example, near the end of the show, Eric is forced to spend detention with notorious bully, Adam. Adam continuously harasses Eric throughout the show. He extorts money out of him, he refers to him exclusively as “Tromboner”, shoves him into lockers, and covers his parents’ car in dogsh-t. Yet somehow, the climax (no pun intended) of that scene occurs when while wrestling, Adam kisses Eric and gives him a blowjob. Although it’s the big twist at the end of the show, I hated it.
In an interview with Thrillist, the show’s creator Laurie Nunn had this to say about Adam and Eric’s relationship: “I think if you rewatch the series we very much were telling a love story through bullying with Eric and Adam... The fact that he bullies people and in particular Eric is his way of looking for intimacy in the world.”
What the f-ck does this even mean? Am I crazy in thinking that telling a love story through bullying is literally the worst idea ever? I am so incredibly exhausted of the homophobic-bullies-being-secretly-gay trope. Adam never apologizes for his behaviour, nor does he treat Eric better immediately after their tryst. Making Adam gay, and even worse, making Eric fall head over heels for him frames a homophobic asshole’s sh-tty behaviour as somehow acceptable. It most definitely is not.
Sex Education is a teen show, as admitted by Nunn herself. For a show so focused on promoting sex positivity for teens, teaching them that bullying is a sign of love seems like a bad idea. It sows the seeds for unhealthy relationships much like when people teach girls that boys’ aggressive behaviour towards them is just harmless flirting. Bullying and abuse are not acceptable ways of expressing affection and intimacy, and I’m disappointed that Nunn can’t see that.
In addition to Eric’s relationship with Adam, Eric is also a victim of gay bashing when he walks home alone dressed in women’s clothing and make-up. Here’s a fair question. Why do gay characters always have to live sh-tty lives? Why do we always die of AIDS or get beaten up in dark alleys? (Also, in the process, the only other male gay character gets hit in the face too. It’s shrugged off though because it helps him come out to his mom. That makes it okay right?)
I love Eric. He’s incredibly positive and his electric spirit complements Otis’s shy demeanor perfectly. He shamelessly tries out for a band that he doesn’t have the talent for. He confidently wears eccentric outfits, nail polish, and makeup. And Eric’s just a lovely person. A stranger attacking him on the road was completely unnecessary. The events it caused, like Eric and Otis’s rift or Eric’s relationship with God and his parents, could have been explored in a multitude of ways. There are other ways of facilitating discussions about queer identity that don’t involve gay bashing. We don’t need to be beaten up in order to grow and learn to love ourselves.
For the most part, Sex Education handles its gay characters clumsily. While there are some actually introspective moments, like the amazing, culturally relevant conversation that Eric has with his father, the show mostly relies on old and problematic tropes to develop its queer characters.
In an interview with Vulture, Dan Levy explains why he doesn’t show homophobia in Schitt’s Creek, a conscious decision. “I have no patience for homophobia,” he explained. “As a result, it’s been amazing to take that into the show. We show love and tolerance. If you put something like that out of the equation, you’re saying that doesn’t exist and shouldn’t exist.’” I still enjoy Sex Education, and I will eagerly wait for Season 2 (if it happens). I’ll just have to wait for another show to give me my ideal gay representation. It’s okay, I’m used to it.