No, I’m not watching ‘You’

There’s one question spreading across the halls of Lake Oswego High School like wildfire. It’s not related to basketball or forecasting or homework or anything school-related, for that matter. It’s four words.

“Have you watched ‘You’?”

I’ve been asked this question dozens of times now, and I think it’s about time that I explain why I haven’t, in fact, watched “You.” If you were hoping that I’d gush about why some stalker is questioningly attractive, I apologize. I’m just not going to watch a show that my friends describe as “addictive” but simultaneously “anxiety-inducing,” “depressing,” and “conflicting.” Hard pass. Instead, I’ve spent my time on a beautiful, complicated show that, for once, shows the good in its subjects: “Sex Education.”

“Sex Education” isn’t PG, but the fact that its central theme is sex shouldn’t be a liability. As opposed to something like “Fifty Shades” (which I haven’t watched but I know is grossly extreme), Sex Education’s conceit serves as a vehicle for meaningful truths. And putting sex aside, the show’s messages are largely nonsexual.

The show’s protagonist is Otis Milburn (Asa Butterfield), a high school student whose mother, Jean (Gillian Anderson), is a renowned sex therapist (“guru”). Having grown up largely influenced by his mother’s work, Otis realizes his talent for translating his mother’s advice to his high school peers. He and a brilliant but socially enigmatic friend named Maeve (Emma Mackey) strategically devise a lucrative therapy business for their classmates who struggle, comically and unfortunately, with romance and sexuality. The glorious irony of the first season is that, despite the effectiveness and accuracy of his coveted advice, Milburn is a virgin. That changes in the second season.

I won’t lie: the second season is significantly less rosy than the first, but it’s no less profound. (Spoilers ahead!) One of the more unfortunate lessons surfaces roughly midway through the season, when Otis hosts a wild party on a Thursday night. (Emphasis on Thursday.) He drunkenly and publicly insults his former crush (Maeve) and his soon-to-be ex (Ola, a.k.a. Patricia Allison), essentially because of his own relationship insecurities. He also loses his virginity to the Popular Girl, Ruby (Mimi Keene), in a drunk blur. His house is pitifully trashed with booze, vomit and sleeping high schoolers. Until he sobers up and manages to regain some trust from his friends, Otis is cringely oblivious to the damage caused because of his earlier intoxication. But viewers have fully known that he has screwed up, to use a less pungent verb.

What comes next is the more solemn chapter of the season. Otis is forced to acknowledge his serious missteps, particularly those which had disparately affected the women around him. When he and Ruby grow concerned that they may have not used protection, he accompanies her to a pharmacy, where the two awkwardly learn about the morning-after pill. He comes to terms with the hurt he’s caused Maeve and Ola, but those two relationships don’t fully heal by the end of the season. And he slowly re-learns to communicate with his mother, who has suffered considerably through his entitled B.S.

The second season also exposes a secondary theme: female solidarity. When one of Maeve’s friends, Aimee (Aimee Lou Wood), is taking the public bus to school, she witnesses a man masturbating on her leg. The experience causes her alarming PTSD. For an undefined but definitively extensive period, she painstakingly walks to school to avoid riding the bus. She also hallucinates seeing the man, thinking every so often that he’s stalking her. Towards the end of the show, Aimee and several other girls find themselves in  Breakfast Club-esque detention, where they’re forced to discuss their commonalities. When she is finally comfortable articulating her trauma, all of the other girls come forward to share theirs, as well. One had been stalked. One had been flashed. One had been shamed. Each of these girls illustrated the ways in which women are forced to cope with sexual harassment from a young age.

The creators of “Sex Education” have translated real issues and common experiences into a mesmerizing artform. Through its dialogue we can learn to find the good in others, and through its turbulence we can learn to navigate social troubles. “Sex Education” isn’t meant to represent high school accurately, but it can provide us a removed experience to allow us better understanding of our own circumstances.