Three Cheers for Sex Education's Tromboner
Illustration by Avery Slezak
Many shows addressing teenage sexuality open no real conversations about relationships, queer sex or mental health. The days are long gone when programs should be praised for flashing a same-sex side plot for brownie points. Representation is not going down the “woke” checklist and choosing whatever is most digestible to a white, cis-het audience. The show that’s best breaking barriers today is Netflix’s “Sex Education.” It’s a coming-of-age comedy-drama revolving around Otis (Asa Butterfield), the son of a sex therapist, as he analyzes his peers in his own underground sex clinic. The highly anticipated third season of this raunchy comedy launched September 17, 2021.
Faithful to its genre, “Sex Education” is chockfull of banter, eye-catching fashion and sex. At first glance, it goes through all the tired stereotypes we’ve seen forever: jock, mean girl and GBF (Gay Best Friend), among others. The show, however, does this intentionally, luring viewers into familiarity just to flip the script and deliver multi-faceted, contradictory storylines about real people. The shy virgin is our straight male lead, the popular clique is mostly made up of BIPOC, and “Romeo and Juliet” can totally be performed in an alternate universe setting by aliens with dick hands (and it is, vividly).
While familiar tropes can provide visibility and comfort to those who resonate with them, when they oversaturate without being subverted, it pushes those they represent into one-dimensional stereotypes.
This is why the greatest character in this series is Eric Effiong, played by Ncuti Gatwa. Eric is Otis’ Nigerian GBF who is overly fond of mismatched patterns. There’s no tired “coming out” or homophobic parent storyline for him, but that doesn’t detract him from demonstrating everyday queer bravery. In one season alone, Eric deals with bullies and a hate crime, coming out stronger and prouder because of it. In season two, Eric navigates complex romantic relationships with both closeted and straight men. He also reconnects with his church and spirituality after temporarily losing faith in God.
GBF’s are typically present in stories with female protagonists because they’re an easy way to be inclusive without threatening male love interests. “Sex Education” not only gives us a close masculine depiction of a gay-straight friendship, but it’s not weird or played up for laughs.
Season three promises to expand upon Eric’s romance, friendships and identity, but he is just one of dozens of equally spectacular characters. So, what are you waiting for? Tune in!