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Lithium The teens of "Sex Education," ranked

Jan. 29, 2020
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What Sex Education gets so right is not only the sex, but also the havers of the sex. It’s a masterclass in characterization, and with the buildup from the first season, the teens of Moordale continue to peel back more layers (of not just clothes, but definitely also that). 

That said, not a single character is wholly vilified or canonized; trying to confine teenagers to one box is a rookie mistake, after all. That’s what makes the show so human: let teens be teens and you’ll see that they are good and bad and then some. Let teens be teens and you’ll be surprised at their choices, but also astonished at how willing they are to fight for them. It can be addictive, that childlike invincibility, where you’re the most vulnerable you’ve ever been but you don’t know it so you’re actually the most indestructible you’ve ever been. So who will win—a brilliantly written TV series with almost nonexistent loose threads and one of the most sensitively written ensembles probably ever, or a teenage girl with opinions on absolutely everything? You already know the answer. Here are the teens of Sex Ed Season 2, ranked from worst to best. (When I say worst to best I mean according to the metric which is my feelings. In the grand scheme of things everyone’s a winner.) 

16. Otis Milburn

I like to think I’m no slave to my biases, but when I came up with this listicle idea just so I could put Otis at the bottom, I knew I’d thrown all objectivity out the window. While it’s very tempting to just list all my annoyances with his character (so whiny… so overdramatic…), it’s his immense self-absorption that really hits the nail on the head. He’s a shit boyfriend and an even shittier friend. How is someone whose biggest concern his virginity that self-aggrandizing? Sex Ed is more of an ensemble piece which just happens to have him at the center, but his arc is what I found most numbing. And I know I’m a teenager who’s also self-absorbed and whiny and overdramatic, but even by teen standards Otis is an asshole. It takes eight full episodes for a man to learn a single thing, apparently! 

15. Dex

I don’t trust a man whose only achievement is knowing how to put colors together on a cube. Besides, who is he again? 

14. Isaac

Cute and crass, almost in the same vein as Maeve, there’s comfort in knowing he provides some semblance of support for her. But he has a tendency to be cruel in the name of…brute humor? Signature teenage angst? Or, as he proved in the season’s final scene, perhaps he’s just selfish. Can’t really blame him, except yes I can.

13. Anwar

Moordale’s Untouchables have never lived up to their name. Cliquish high schoolers are still high schoolers, after all; they’re subject to the same insecurity and melodrama that plague both the cool and uncool. He’s still mean—that’s his function in the well-oiled machine of televised teenhood—but he’s never wholly despicable. Also, his eyelashes are perfect.

12. Adam Groff

It was Adam’s ending last season that I found most bothersome, and yeah, baby’s got issues—but he’s working on it! He isn’t nowhere near the person he should be but he’s come a long way, and I can’t help but root for him. Besides, with a deeper dive into Headmaster Groff this season, it’s hard not to see where he’s coming from. 

11. Steve Morley

Netflix’s second most lovable Steve, the heart of gold beneath his hard exterior is a calming presence. He’s intelligent (he’s on the quiz bowl team!), sweet, and understanding, especially this season when Aimee struggles with a traumatic experience. Anyone who respects Aimee’s wishes to be given time and space is worth this high a place on my list. 

10. Ruby Matthews

Majestic-haired Ruby is one of my favorite onscreen mean girls because she’s just so bad at being a mean girl. Her hallway banter holds very little weight and her quest to make the hot exchange student her boyfriend never turns destructive. Maybe I just watched Mean Girls too early in my childhood, but I was genuinely surprised at and appreciative of how relatively meek Ruby is as Moordale’s Regina George. 

9. Olivia Hanan

The third member of the Untouchables, Olivia is mean only on paper. She shows up for Aimee in one of the season’s most tear-jerking scenes, flashing a smile that could launch a thousand ships. The things I would do just to be in detention with her and everyone else—an all-female Breakfast Club whose friendship is as empowering as it is protective. 

8. Lily Iglehart

Phantasy sci-fi sapphic queen of my dreams, Lily is a visionary stage director (Romeo and Juliet in a phallic forest? Come on.) and a wonderful friend-slash-future-girlfriend. She’s detached from school drama but never fails to create a safe environment for Ola—who seems to be at the center of it—to vent and release. She’s deadpan but empathetic. In fact, she should just replace Otis as the protagonist in the third season. They both seem seven feet tall; no one would even notice.

7. Jackson Marchetti

First things first: he is objectively the most attractive student in all of Moordale and has possibly the best lips in all of Netflix. This season he goes full Troy Bolton, complete with the “It’s not my dream, mom, it’s yours” speech and a lead role in the over-budgeted school play. It’s great to see a side of him sans Maeve; I was a huge fan of their pairing, but I loved watching him grow and learn about himself after they broke up. It was also a brilliant choice to give him a genuine friend—charm and fame are often very brittle, and it was a relief to know he won’t be breaking when he falls. Jackson Marchetti if you’re reading this I am free on Thursday and would love to have you read Shakespeare to me on Thursday when I am free.

6. Rahim

We don’t see a lot of him outside his relationship with Eric, but from his quick stint as the perfect dream boy he proved himself tender and caring. Everything he did was swoon-worthy, but I completely melted when he asked to go to church with Eric. Also: please! Read! Pablo! Neruda! To! Me!

5. Viv

For someone who keeps saying she doesn’t have time for friends, Viv is probably the best kind of friend anyone in Moordale could ask for. I found her friendship with Jackson one of the most endearing moments this season, and she’s easily my favorite addition to the cast. She may be the smartest, most overachieving person in school, but she still has trash taste in boys—so it’s good to know she’s still human like the rest of us. I can’t wait to see more of her.

4. Aimee Gibbs

I’m not a huge fan of cake but if it was Aimee who baked it then I’d be the world’s biggest cake person. She was my absolute favorite last season and her storyline this time is one of the show’s strongest, culminating in a scene at a bus stop that will stay with me for days. Her character is brilliantly written: she’s definitely strong and I admire her for it, but she also needs help and isn’t afraid to admit she couldn’t deal with things alone. She’s also unconditionally supportive of her friends—she was at every Quiz Heads competition! With signs! 

3. Ola Nyman

Since the first season’s finale, audiences have not been kind to Ola, and they are, frankly, all wrong. She was good to Otis (in fact, it was Otis who was not good to her—I swear this whole list isn’t just an Otis hate piece, though) and her only fault I could fathom is that she came between a pairing she had no idea even existed. She made an effort to understand Otis even when he didn’t deserve it, and she pitted herself against Maeve because her boyfriend was dishonest. (When they apologized to each other I swear my soul left my body and high-fived God. I wish I grew up with this show and not Skins UK.) It’s so gratifying to see a young woman know her worth and have a clear idea of what she wants, and I’m so happy she’s finally with someone who wholly deserves her and her cute overalls. 

2. Eric Effiong

Anyone who says they love the cast equally is lying and has Eric as their favorite. He’s incredibly loyal and supportive but not blind to his friend’s bullshit—and Otis has a lot (again, I swear this isn’t an Otis hate piece). His explosiveness is infectious and the way he gets excited about things perfectly counterbalances Otis’ rigid diffidence. He’s never malicious: when he invited Ruby to a party and shyly complimented her hair I swear I could cry. He deserves all the happiness and contentment and love in the world, and I’m so glad to see him slowly learn to go for what he truly wants.

1. Maeve Wiley

Full disclosure: since childhood I’ve been absolutely obsessed with the Kat Stratfords and Alaska Youngs of teen canon, so naturally Maeve has a special place in my heart. She’s written as a strong female character whose crush is not a reduction of that strength, which I perceived as a rarity. For years I confused independence with stoicism: the weapon-wielding (frequently assumed heterosexual) heroine should be alone lest she exhibit subservience, as if her coexistence with a man automatically diminishes her to a secondary character. The emotional burden of romance is always carried by the female character, even in the arc of a male hero. His love interest is written solely to fulfil a function: as a stepping stone to his self-actualization or the precursor of his Man Pain. Maeve is complex and interesting even without her feelings for Otis and yet she has them, because she’s a teenage girl whose emotions don’t magically evaporate just because she knows how to whip up a killer essay. I don’t know about you, but I’ll be etching windows in the walls of my heart because that’s where she’ll be living with her kitchen table and four chairs; and she doesn’t have to be alone ever again.