reviews,

  • jean and otis 75adc

    Let’s talk about Netflix’s new UK teen dramedy series, Sex Education. Still in the post-binge glow, I’ve been describing it to all my friends as the child of The End of the Fucking World and Please Like Me. Could I give a show higher praise? No, I could not.

    The show is centered on Otis (Asa Butterfield), a 16-year-old living with his divorced mother Jean (Gillian Anderson), who runs her sex therapy practice out of their home. Growing up in such an environment has made Otis oddly knowledgeable about sex and relationships, despite the fact that he is single, a virgin, and extremely uncomfortable with his own sexuality (he cannot stand to masturbate and hates getting erections).

    In the first few days of a new schoolyear at Moordale Secondary School, Otis’ talent for giving sex advice is discovered by Maeve (Emma Mackey), the troubled cool girl who is secretly a genius. Maeve quickly finds a way to monetize this, and so she and Otis team up to run a sex therapy practice for their fellow students. Each of the eight episodes in the first season involves at least one client with varying degrees of serial plot relevance. Otherwise, the plot explores the relationship dynamics between friends, families, and love interests.

    maeve3 9da8bMaeve in Netflix's Sex Education

    Of course, there are some classic teen shenanigans and familiar plotlines along the way, but Sex Education manages to feel entirely fresh, due in large part to its intersectional characters and mature handling of often belittled teenage problems.

    This show has some of the best drawn LGBTQIA+ characters I’ve seen since Please Like Me, which ended in 2016 after four glorious seasons. (Please Like Me is an Australian dramedy created by comedian Josh Thomas, and it can be streamed on Hulu. It’s not the intention of this piece for me to gush about it, but really, you should add it to your must-watch list.) There are several gay and lesbian characters and couples on the show, all of whom are developed outside of their sexuality and accurately reflect different stages of life. Not only does this feel much more representative of the real world, it ensures no LGBTQIA+ character is tokenized.

    Most notably, Otis’ best friend, Eric (Ncuti Gatwa), is black, flamboyantly gay, comes from a religious family, and has one of the best, most heart-wrenching character arcs of the season (if you thought Barb deserved better in Stranger Things, prepare yourself to be outraged). Though he fits the “gay best friend” archetype, the stereotypical nature of Eric’s character begins and ends there. Eric gets to explore religion, internalized fear and anger, and the effects of trauma, all while being one of the most pure and funny central characters on the show. As an added bonus, his friendship with a young man (Otis) is never questioned; Otis is never made to wonder if Eric might be interested in him, and we get to see Otis not only willingly, but willfully, participate in queer culture at Eric’s request. Everything about them screams Friendship Goals.

    Eric2 999b7Eric in Netflix's Sex Education

    I can’t talk about Sex Education and Goals without bringing up Ola (Patricia Allison), a supporting character in five of the eight episodes. Ola is everything we should strive to be: hilarious, forward, unapologetic, and self-aware. She makes it clear to Otis that she’s interested in him, then easily counters his opinion on school dances (not a fan) with her own (big fan). She doesn’t fall into the trap of trying to mask her thoughts to appease others, especially the boy she likes, which feels revolutionary in a female teenage character who isn’t made out to be a rebel or “man-hater.”

    Ola goes to said dance in a badass tux, which no one finds odd (no side comments nor side-eye are given), again normalizing something that most teen shows turn into a plot point or an overbearing declaration of inclusivity. In the midst of the dance, she confronts Otis about an issue that poses a threat to their burgeoning relationship, and when he unwittingly insults her by trying to downplay the situation, she recognizes it as bad behavior and doesn’t stand for it. Ola is an instant role model and icon.

    ola3 40b44Ola in Netflix's Sex Education

    The issues Sex Education’s characters face are equally well-crafted and diverse. We’re talking abortion, consent, stalking, sexual blackmail, mental health, classism, homophobia… the list goes on. Each issue is handled with sensitivity and tact, pulling on heartstrings without the feeling of being manipulated into caring. Like The End of the Fucking World (another Netflix Original I highly recommend), the series carries weight because it hits on some of the most contentious social issues of today through the perspective of one of the most vulnerable and impressionable populations: teenagers.

    Sex Education is the kind of aspirational television that shows the best of intersectional feminism. I could go on and on about the other characters and specific meaningful moments, of which there are several poignant things to write about (I haven’t even had a chance to mention that the show is helmed by Laurie Nunn and its writing team is made up almost entirely of women!), but this piece has to end somewhere. Suffice it to say, to not get a second season of Sex Education would be the crime of the century, and so I humbly implore you to go binge-watch it now.

    Top image: Sex Education

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    CAT POWER
    Wanderer
    (Domino)

    It’s been six years since Cat Power, aka Chan Marshall, released her last album, which is a long time even by her standards. Thankfully, she’s back with Wanderer, a blissful return to form that will satisfy every corner of her fan base. On her last album, 2012’s Sun, Marshall played with on-trend synths and Auto-Tuned vocals, and while there’s a little bit of that on Wanderer, listeners who prefer her folksier offerings will appreciate this album as well. 

    There are gorgeous, piano-based tracks that evoke “I Don’t Blame You”—most notably on an instantly classic cover of Rihanna’s “Stay”—as well as moodier songs like the acoustic “Black.” (If you miss Marshall’s depressive lyrics of yore, the latter track’s “angel of death” refrain will feel like a healing balm.) On “Woman,” Marshall teams up with her one-time tour mate Lana Del Rey for a driving anthem about learning to rely on yourself above all else, but the album’s real standout is the title track, repeated as an outro in a different key. Both versions will leave listeners haunted, in awe of Marshall’s ability to conjure whole landscapes using nothing but her voice. (5/5)

    By Eliza Thompson
    Wanderer is out October 5, 2018.
    This article originally appeared in the October/November 2018  print edition of BUST Magazine. Subscribe today!

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    MADELINE KENNEY
    Perfect Shapes
    (Carpark Records)

    A year after her modest debut, Madeline Kenney teamed up with Wye Oak’s Jenn Wasner and found her signature sound: pure, unabashed, blissed-out pop. It’s the perfect complement to her timely lyrics that deal with the societal pressures women face. On the synth-driven “The Flavor of the Fruit Tree,” Kenney sweetly laments, “I keep getting old, you keep getting younger,” while “Cut Me Off” is a jumpy chorale that staves off redundancy, but in a way that won’t completely harsh your mellow. Listening to Perfect Shapes is a dream, one that you won’t want to wake up from. (5/5)

    By Shannon Carlin
    Perfect Shapes was released October 5.
    This article originally appeared in the October/November 2018  print edition of BUST Magazine. Subscribe today!

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    SNEAKS

    Highway Hypnosis

    (Merge)

    Highway Hypnosis is the kind of record that club basements were made for. The experimental songs are quick—tailored for those who like a clear beat and have a short attention span. A few tracks sound somewhat predictable, but the collections takes a turn halfway through. In "Money Don't Grow On Trees," Sneaks (aka D.C.'s Eva Moolchan) repeats the title line over an eclectic mash-up of synth and percussion, creating a hook of sorts. The overall effect of the album is interesting ati-pop, though some might find the experience a bit distant and chilly. 3/5

    Highway Hypnosis is out January 25, 2019.

    By Claire McKinzie

    This piece originally appeared in the January/February 2019 print edition of BUST Magazine. Subscribe today!

    Top photo: "Highway Hypnosis" album cover via Sneaks' Bandcamp

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