The Netflix algorithm is getting stronger. Consider Sex Education, a new British dramedy patched together so perspicaciously from pieces of existing hits that you can virtually see the stitches. Like The End of the F***ing World, it’s a zany teen romance set in a mysterious Anglo-American hinterland that looks like a John Hughes movie but whose cultural references are pure Blighty (Butlin’s, Wotsits, SRE class, getting monged). Like Stranger Things, it’s a tribute to a retro aesthetic of wood paneling and earth tones. And, like Big Mouth, it’s a filthy sex comedy about lovable teenagers running amok in their witless, hormonal, priapic frenzies.
That it works so well is almost annoying. One of the assets of a TV show that’s such a grab bag of miscellaneous elements is that you’re bound to find something to appreciate, whether it’s graphic doodles of genitalia (tip o’ the cap to American Vandal), heartfelt portrayals of teen anxiety, hirsute and strangely sexy Scandinavian handymen, or the moment toward the end of the first episode when Gillian Anderson recites a litany of slangy euphemisms for semen. (Pick your own favorite; mine is “man milk,” delivered with alliterative emphasis.) Never mind that every episode is 20 minutes too long. Push aside the cultural dissonance. Here is a series that pulls off a curious trick: It’s a woke raunch comedy, replete with graphic and humiliating sexual experiences, yet bent on using them in a very sincere way.