Why Did Sex Education Mix Up British & American School Traditions?

Photo: Courtesy of Netflix.
Netflix’s Sex Education may get extra credit for its unapologetic tone and witty nature, but there is something about the show that has many viewers scratching their heads.
In nearly every American teen comedy, you’ll find high schoolers sporting varsity letterman jackets, playing football, chatting by lockers, and planning for prom. The same isn’t exactly true for British students, though Sex Education melds these different high school cultures together, which has left some wondering why — and which location, exactly, the show is supposed to take place in.
The coming-of-age drama starring Gillian Anderson and Asa Butterfield features a British cast, is set in a British school, and was filmed in Penarth, South Wales, yet it feels incredibly American. The show also never says what year it is or where exactly the characters are located. According to series creator Laurie Nunn, this was done deliberately in an effort to make the story universal.
“I’ve always been really influenced by American film and TV shows; they played a really big part in my own teenage years, so that was always something I wanted to come back to,” Nunn told Radio Times magazine. “It’s definitely set in Britain, but we’ve made a very conscious choice to have that American, throwback nostalgia, John Hughes feel to it.”
Drawing inspiration from Hughes movies such as The Breakfast Club and Pretty in Pink, Sex Education follows Butterfield’s awkward Otis, who teams up with a classmate to create an underground sex therapy clinic, spurring from the knowledge passed down over the years from his sex therapist mother Jean, played by Anderson.
In November, The Telegraph reported that Netflix would up the number of scripted European TV shows and films made in an effort to compete with British broadcasters. An early result of this news is Sex Education, which executive producer and director Ben Taylor hopes shines a light on a different experience for viewers, particularly those who have been through the British school system.
“I’ve always been really frustrated that the British school experience is never portrayed with positivity or color or warmth or hope; it always tends to be sticking two fingers up and saying, ‘I’m out of here as soon as I graduate,’” Taylor said. “Whereas I think there’s an American feeling that, even though the films are riddled with anxieties and angst, you’d still look back at them as the best years of your life. That became the backdrop of what we wanted to set Otis’ story against.”
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