Chemistry is everything when it comes to TV. It’s what makes us desperate for more installments of a really great show (and maybe even put down our smartphones to watch it). It’s arguably why Friends remains popular, why I still obsess over Pacey Witter and Joey Potter and why Line of Duty’s final episode was the most-watched episode of any drama since modern records began. These are big words, but I’d say Sex Education falls into this category. Season three’s episodes have all dropped on Netflix, and the internet is already fawning over it—and for good reason.
The show’s premise might be based on Asa Butterfield’s Otis Milburn playing sex therapist to his peers, but it’s so much more than that. It turns the teen genre on its head, refusing to be so obvious as having the jocks versus the geeks as unrelatable, one-dimensional characters. True, it clearly borrows from the John Hughes textbook, especially considering its era-bending, mostly ’80s aesthetic, but it pushes the teen-show boundary in a way that feels so very now. It also refuses to just focus on the central character’s love life and looks at a range of relationships—platonic, nonbinary, gay and everything in between. It tackles tricky subjects with humour and compassion, and the teenagers are clearly more clued-up than any of the adults. Milburn might be the protagonist, but the rest of the cast, and their relationships, I’d argue, are just as important.
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One such character, and a personal favourite, is Vivienne Odusanya, played by Chinenye Ezeudu. While she only came along in season two, her relationship with head boy Jackson Marchetti was compelling. Instead of the classic (and tired) jock-falls-in-love-with-geek storyline, they end up with a brilliant and quietly tender platonic relationship. Fans of the show will remember the touching moment at the end of season two when Odusanya helps Marchetti remember his lines in Moordale High’s production of Romeo and Juliet.
We initially met Odusanya as a teen purely focussed on her studies, who’s not keen to make friends until she’s at university, and she’s pegged as the know-it-all of the group. However, as season two progressed, we saw more of her personality. Ahead of the show’s new season, I had a chat with Ezeudu about playing the character, what’s in store for the coming season and how her character’s relationships develop with Marchetti and the rest of the crew. Without giving away too much, the new Trunchbull-in-hipster-clothing head, played by Girls’ Jemima Kirke, tasks Odusanya with spying on her fellow classmates, and we see a new side to her relationship with Marchetti.
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“They go through a lot of challenges this season especially with [spoiler alert] Viv becoming head girl,” says Ezeudu. “That just throws a spanner in the works, and she has to question her morality a lot. But he supports her in a way that many people don’t and vice versa. We have such a special relationship, and I feel that in school, we all had those kind of relationships, so it’s really nice to see it flourish.”
While we’re talking about the new season, there was one scene from season two I wanted to ask Ezeudu about—the scene with the girls in the library, when they talk about their experiences of sexual harassment and assault. How did she feel about filming such a significant and important scene, especially one so many of us can relate to?
“In the moment, we didn’t know how important it was until it came out, and we saw everyone else’s reaction to it. And that took a lot of pressure off. It was fun to film, weirdly enough, because it was all of the girls, and we were just sharing all of our experiences and filming, and we were having fun. Isn’t it sad that everyone can identify with that?”
This just highlights how important Sex Education is in many ways. Not only can it delve into the complicated relationships people have with their bodies and others, but it can also highlight important topics such as sexual harassment. And this season is no different, as it tackles other issues such as nonbinary students not being taken seriously by the school and teens being told to abstain from sex.
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Of course, Sex Education isn't just some kind of after-school special. It's also incredibly funny, and it’s worth remembering that. There are some truly laugh-out-loud moments that will also make you gasp this season. (The French school trip is as nostalgic as it is hilarious.)
Another point about the show that makes it unique is the aesthetic, which is probably best described as confusing. While it’s clearly set in modern times, the more ’80s styling of the cast creates a sense of not really knowing when it’s shot. Viv’s outfits are perhaps the most pared-back, least out-there styles of the cast, but they still say a lot about her character. I wanted to know what Ezeudu thought about her character’s look.
“She definitely has a certain style. She has this wolf T-shirt that’s brown [laughs], and she wears quite muted colours. But she expresses herself through the mutedness. [Throughout the series], I think she gets more confident with herself and then more so with her fashion. I think she stays very true to herself when she dresses.”
So what was Ezeudu’s style when she was a teen? “I was really into polo necks [laughs]. I just felt like the look was really cool. I also always wanted to dress in the Vivienne Westwood aesthetic, but I never had the money, so I just tried to come up with something punky but also really cool.”
We also bonded over our love of ’00s trends and music. “It was a lot of tank tops and leg warmers, and there was a lot of layering as well. And [we] used to have these baseball caps, Yankees and New York ones,” she recalled. She also reminded me about the Paul’s Boutique bags that everyone loved buying from the Big Topshop on Oxford Street. “There was that pink one that looks really plastic-y and really cheap but also really classy for some reason when you added the little charms to it.”
Today, Ezeudu still prefers punkier style, but I wanted to know what her influences are right now. “I love Willow Smith’s sense of style. I think she’s really cool. Rihanna, obviously. I love that kind of vibe. It just feels rebellious, and I like that her style kind of reflects that. There’s never been an outfit that’s bad. Everything she wears is so beautiful.”
With Sex Education’s popularity growing even more, how does Ezeudu feel about a chance to dress up more for big events? “I’m always like, ‘I don’t know what to do.’ But I’ve got a really good team around me. If I don’t want to wear it, I won’t.”
And if that isn't the most Vivienne of answers, I don’t know what is.
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