Asa Butterfield and Gillian Anderson star in this awesome series about a kid who takes up the family business of sex counseling despite being sexually repressed.
Otis Milburn (Asa Butterfield) is a sexually repressed (not asexual, though that would also have been interesting) teenager whose mother, Jean (Gillian “I’m not just Scully, assholes” Anderson) is a well-known sex therapist who has commitment issues following her divorce. One day, he gives advice to Adam Groff (Connor Swindells) a local bully and son of the headmaster, about his problem with ejaculating during sex. This ultimately cures Adam, although his girlfriend still breaks up with him for his other issues. School bad-girl stereotype Maeve (Emma Mackey) sees the results of this and decides that the two of them can charge for dispensing sex advice to people in the school. Together with Otis’ best friend Eric (Ncuti Gatwa), they start to deal with all of the school’s sexual dysfunctions… and there are a lot of them.
First off, whoever cast this show needs to get all of the high fives. I’ve loved Asa Butterfield since The Boy in the Striped Pajamas and Hugo and he’s been doing great work since then, even if some of the stuff hasn’t been my cup of tea. Gillian Anderson is a fantastically talented actress who also was one of my first crushes. If you haven’t seen her on the show The Fall, you really should check it out. I’ve never seen Emma Mackey or Ncuti Gatwa before, but both of them are amazing. Ncuti Gatwa nails the difficulties of being a gay man in a religious family (though his family does love him, he knows they still don’t approve) while Mackey goes through a large number of character arcs, probably the most in the season, resulting in a decent amount of change over the series, all with consistent character portrayal.
The supporting characters, too, are all great, ranging from Adam and his strict, almost abusive, father (Alistair Petrie) to Jackson Marchetti (Kedar Williams-Stirling), the school’s star athlete who has a big crisis of self, to Aimee (Aimee Lou Wood), a nice girl who has an odd friendship with both Maeve and the school’s “Mean Girls.” All of them feel fairly natural in their portrayals, but all have a few strange quirks that distinguish them. Even the characters who only appear in one episode tend to feel pretty well fleshed-out, with a lot more done through showing, rather than telling. Those of you who read this often know that I always appreciate that.
There are a number of season-long or multi-episode character arcs, which play out around whatever the episode’s central conflict is. The central conflict is generally one student’s sexual issues, ranging from inability to give oral sex to dealing with exes. Sometimes the problem is so specific that it’s not likely to be related to anything you ever would encounter in reality, and sometimes you might, if you’re me, find yourself asking follow-up clarification questions to the TV. I also appreciate that the show does point out that many of these issues that are being addressed are actually causing problems for the kids, but they have no way to get their inquiries answered because A) the school Sex-Ed is bad and B) they can’t talk to their parents about it. It points out that a lack of sex education regularly causes harm to the kids, making sex ed not a moral issue, but one of public health.
The writing is fantastic. It’s got all of the humor that you want, all of the dirty content that you secretly crave, and yet also has a lot of great emotional moments. Even though a bit of the show is semi-predictable and somewhat formulaic, you still find yourself getting through those parts because the characters are easy to invest in and the dialogue is snappy enough to make it a fun journey.
Overall, I really recommend that you check this show out. I think it’s smart enough to keep you thinking while being fun enough to keep you watching.
If you want to check out some more by the Joker on the Sofa, check out the 100 Greatest TV Episodes of All Time, Collection of TV Episodes, Collection of Movie Reviews, or the Joker on the Sofa Reviews.
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