Netflix’s Sex Education is a show that’s quite frank about its approach in talking about…well…sex. From the teenager who gets anxiety about jacking himself off to showing the proper way to give a blow job, there’s really nothing that’s off limits in this series. Amidst all the talk about getting down and dirty, the show has characters who aren’t written as caricatures of high school teen stereotypes. Each one are wonderfully unique and complex individuals going through some of the same hang ups and awkwardness we may have gone through as teenagers. One of the main bright spots about Sex Education is the heartwarming friendship between Otis and Eric.
Otis Millburn (Asa Butterfield) and Eric Effiong (Ncuti Gatwa) are first introduced as longtime best mates who are already labeled as the uncool and awkward outcasts at their high school. While being a nobody that everyone mostly ignores suits Otis just fine, his best friend Eric, who happens to be out and proud, looks to the new school term as their chance to make it the best year of their young lives.
Their relationship is a perfect example of what a close knit friendship should be. Otis is the reliant and supportive friend Eric can always fall back on, and Eric encourages Otis to occasionally take risks and step outside of his comfort zone, like trying to win the affections of school rebel Maeve Wiley (Emma Mackey) when Otis finds himself falling for her. Like any friendship, Otis and Eric eventually encounter a situation that really tests their bond.
In Episode 5, Otis and Eric make plans to see the movie Hedwig and the Angry Inch, dressed in full costume for the occasion, as part of an annual tradition for Eric’s birthday. But when Otis is about ready to leave to meet Eric at the bus stop to go to the movie theater in the next town over, Maeve calls him for help to deal with a personal matter concerning one of their classmates. Caught in the middle between Eric and Maeve, Otis ultimately decides to help Maeve, thinking he’ll be able to still make it in time for his original plans with Eric. The episode then shows how the day progresses very differently for Otis and Eric. While Otis’ day ends on a bit of a high note, having shared a romantic moment with Maeve, Eric, on the other hand, has the worst day he could possibly imagine.
Feeling uncomfortable and vulnerable dressed up as Hedwig, Eric waits for Otis alone at the bus station in town after Otis promises to catch the next bus to meet Eric there. When Eric briefly leaves his jacket unattended to search for Otis in the crowd of people who exit out of a bus that has just arrived, he returns to find that the jacket containing his cell phone and wallet have been stolen. With no money or a phone, Eric is forced to walk the long way home by himself. During Eric’s long trek on the side of the road, a man in a car pulls up alongside Eric, harassing him and eventually beating him up when the random stranger in the car realizes Eric isn’t really a woman. Things come to a head between Otis and Eric when Otis returns home and sees Eric is waiting for him after Otis’ mom Jean (Gillian Anderson) picks up Eric to take him back to their house.
The fight that ensues between Otis and Eric gets ugly, both saying things they don’t mean but also reveals some bottled up feelings they have kept in for a while. Otis is convinced Eric is jealous of him for having a life outside of his best friend that doesn’t always include him, while Eric accuses Otis of dropping him for Maeve and neglecting their longtime friendship over a girl. The fight in the episode highlights how both have valid arguments based on what you see throughout Sex Education.
When Otis spends more time with Maeve because of their partnership to run an underground sex therapy business at their high school, Eric struggles to figure out how to do things outside of Otis. As Otis becomes increasingly unavailable, Eric begins seeing the downside of only having one good friend in and outside of school. He makes an attempt to get involved with band to fill in the extra time he has after school, but even that proves to be unfulfilling, especially when some of his fellow band mates go out of their way to put down Eric for being the weakest link in their musical ensemble. Gradually, Eric starts feeling lonely and severely neglected without Otis.
The time Otis spends with Maeve to help the sexually horny and confused at their school gives him the opportunity to really get to know Maeve, but at the cost of unintentionally forgetting about the friend who has been there for him since they were kids. By taking Eric for granted, making the severe mistake of abandoning his best friend on his birthday, Otis becomes the kind of friend Eric never thought he would become—an unreliable and insensitive person. Though you do see both sides of how Otis and Eric’s friendship changes when Maeve Wiley unknowingly shake up their lives, you mostly side with Eric in this argument. No girl should take precedence over a friend, and definitely not on their birthday.
Episode 5 is one of my favorite episodes on the show. It’s heartwarming and heartbreaking all at once. When Otis is at his best at being Eric’s friend, despite not really wanting to draw too much attention to himself, Otis is willing to make a spectacle of himself for a day to dress up in full drag with Eric to watch a cult favorite film together, year after year. It’s one of the best displays of friendship on television. At the same time the pain is palpable in the second half of the episode when Eric later learns that the reason Otis ditches him on his birthday is to run to the aid of a girl over his own friend. This is why when their friendship breaks in that moment towards the end of the episode your own heart shatters too. If you thought your favorite romantic couple breaking up is devastating, it goes both ways for onscreen friendships. How can you imagine Otis without Eric or vice versa? It’s a testament to how perfectly cast Asa Butterfield and Ncuti Gatwa are in their roles, and they have the chemistry to make it feel as if they have been besties since forever. Being as Sex Education is an 8-episode show, luckily, the friend breakup between Otis and Eric doesn’t last too long.
Episode 7 is where Otis and Eric make up during their school dance. Otis apologizes for being such a bad friend to Eric lately and tells Eric how much he misses him. All is forgiven, but Otis does owe Eric a birthday. It’s then followed by adorable scenes of Otis and Eric cutting it up on the dance floor. This is another instance where Otis foregoes his usual inhibitions to simply have fun and be silly with his friend. It’s small moments like this one that it’s obvious Eric is the only person in the world Otis would step outside of his usual safe bubble for. The duo are nothing without each other, and it’s exactly why their friendship is now one of my favorites from television.
Because Netflix recently announced Sex Education is getting a Season 2, I look forward to seeing more cute friendship moments between Otis and Eric. Who needs romance when you have a ride or die friend who will be with you until the end?
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