Sex Education’s third season opens with a montage of people fucking—not an orgy, but a stunning and precisely edited cut of the show’s characters engaging in some form of sexual activity with their partner or themselves. It makes it almost easy to forget that Laurie Nunn’s Netflix dramedy centers mostly on high school students and not adults. Season three dials up the risqué sex scenes, while retaining the lightheartedness and poignancy in the return to Moordale Secondary School. This latest batch of episodes finds Sex Education at its raunchiest and soul-stirring best; sublime humor and vivid performances continue to ground all the horniness, of which there is plenty.
A whole summer has passed since Otis Milburn’s (Asa Butterfield) lovesick voicemail to Maeve Wiley (Emma Mackey) was secretly deleted, and since Eric Effiong (Ncuti Gatwa) and Adam Groff (Connor Swindells) became an official couple. The clinic founded by Otis and Maeve has been shut down, but there’s a temporary new Sex King at school, doling out advice from the dilapidated bathroom stalls. Otis now dates popular girl Ruby Matthews (Mimi Keene), as Eric and Adam get vocal about their desires, and Ola (Patricia Allison) and Lily (Tanya Reynolds) try to figure out their alien-themed banging. A plethora of sexual doubts, from insecurity about penis lengths to pleasuring a woman, are addressed.
Sex Education retains its inherent sweetness and relatability, fleshing out its protagonists’ backstories and friendships without seeming overstuffed or superficial. When a show’s ensemble of characters expands, a few tend to get lost in the shuffle. But Sex Education understands the value of character development, especially as it subverts teen-comedy clichés. Ruby is introduced as a Regina George-style mean girl with minions, but she doesn’t lose her spirited side in her surprisingly vulnerable romance with Otis. Lily is often slated as the weirdo, but season three spends time with her internal conflicts as she realizes the public consequences of her space-themed sex musical from season two. It’s a marvel to watch actors like Keene and Reynolds, along with Kedar Williams-Stirling (as swimming champion Jackson Marchetti) and Aimee Lou Wood (as Aimee Gibbs), get their deserved time in the spotlight.
Even Otis and Maeve’s on-again, off-again dynamic is far from tiresome; their shared storyline this season provides them with just enough angst, even as more plot twists are thrown their way. Adam, Eric, and Rahim’s (Sami Outalbali) love triangle forgoes the trite jealousy route, making room for Adam to outgrow his controversial bullying and Eric to further explore his identity. Gillian Anderson is consistently charming as Dr. Jean Milburn, who deals with her pregnancy along with her strained relationship with Jakob (Mikael Persbrandt), and the pressure those issues put on their respective kids, Otis and Ola. Through Jean, as well as Michael (Alistair Petrie) and Maureen Groff (Samantha Spiro), Sex Education makes it clear that insecurities about sex or other relationship drama aren’t left behind after a certain age.
The teens’ academic troubles arrive in the form of Mr. Groff’s replacement, Headmistress Hope Haddon (Girls’ Jemima Kirke). Hope is the walking definition of the viral phrase “gaslight, gatekeep, girlboss.” She wins hearts with passionate speeches and a song-and-dance routine, but has strict divide-and-conquer methods to salvage the school’s reputation. An ex-Moordale student, Hope transforms into a fascinating foe who prioritizes the school’s media coverage and outside perception over actually helping the students. She even withholds resources from nonbinary teens like newcomer Cal Bowman (Dua Saleh). Hope’s ideas for punishment—mostly of the public-shaming variety—cause friction, especially between Jackson and Vivienne (Chinenye Ezeudu).
In many ways, Hope is Sex Education’s anti-Jean, a moral guardian who essentially promotes abstinence in the new sex ed classes. The response to her increasingly old-school tricks leads to yet another spectacle in the vein of season two’s big musical. The students’ outburst is both meaningful and quite hilarious, further cementing the show’s ability to be incisive and silly at the same time. The fifth episode of season three is a prime example—the whole class goes on a bus trip to France monitored by teachers Emily Sands (Rakhee Thakrar) and Colin Hendricks (Jim Howick). This leads to pivotal storylines, including Maeve and Aimee’s first fight and Adam and Rahim’s unexpected friendship, but the most memorable part is a ridiculous poop-related incident rife with witty writing that doesn’t just get played for laughs.
Sex Education treats platonic relationships with as much nuance as romantic or sexual ones. Aimee and Maeve have a brief falling out, but it only helps them; Eric and Otis’ longtime bond strengthens, especially as the season closes. Jackson and Viv’s friendship, which blossomed only last season, weathers Hope’s interference but isn’t dragged out for dramatic purposes. This offers opportunities for engaging new pairings, including Keene and Butterfield.
Throughout its run, Sex Education has shown an acute awareness of how modern young adults navigate life and relationships, buoyed by exceptional performances across the board (though Lou Wood has turned into the show scene stealer). The series’ inclusivity, particularly in its discussions of various queer relationships—especially between people of color—is still one of its greatest strengths. Season three builds on the magnetism of the two previous installments to become the show’s best offering yet.