Netflix’s critically-acclaimed comedy-drama Sex Education has been one of the streaming service’s biggest hits, but its best future is now a completely new cast and characters. Since its debut in 2019, the likes of Otis, Maeve, Eric, Jean Milburn, and Adam Groff have become beloved figures, inextricably tied to the Sex Education story. However, as prominent cast members continue their exodus ahead of seasons 4 and 5, and the plot inevitably moves forward, it’s increasingly clear that a new generation of rising stars is necessary.
A major problem for Sex Education is that several of its leading players are exiting the stage. Already, Ncuti Gatwa – who plays Eric Effiong – has been cast as the new Doctor in the BBC’s sci-fi institution Doctor Who. Likewise, 2023 BAFTA Rising Star award-winner Emma Mackey has seemingly confirmed that she will not be returning to the show after Sex Education season 4 (via Radio Times). Together with the fact that all the original actors are moving beyond the age to effectively inhabit the high school setting, it’s clear that circumstances are working against Sex Education‘s future plans. As such, a radical rethink is needed.
Sex Education’s Best Future Is With An Entirely New Cast
If Netflix wants to continue Sex Education past season 4 and beyond, the only viable option is an entirely new cast of characters. While replacing Otis et al. will be no easy feat, there is simply no other way to contend with both the narrative constraints of aging actors and original characters in addition to an increasing number of departures. While a show may be able to get away with replacing one or two minor background figures, recasting roles like Otis and Maeve is just not realistic. Given their central role in the Sex Education story to date, the show would be better off fully committing to a change of course rather than sticking only with characters whose actors stay on board.
By contrast, a new cast can return the show to its roots and reinvigorate the series. Part of what made Sex Education so successful was the universality of its themes and its realistic portrayal of adolescence. Though the series thus far have done an admirable job of exploring this experience, there is still much more to be said. Starting a new journey with unfamiliar faces can allow Sex Education to examine these issues in an authentic and believable way, rather than remaining attached to an increasingly aging cast whose stories are approaching a natural conclusion. The end of high school is always hard, but in Sex Education‘s case, letting go and starting afresh could be exactly what the show needs.
Sex Education Season 5 Can’t Survive Its Big Departures Without Changing
Part of the reason that Sex Education‘s departures are so devastating is that it has always been an ensemble piece. While Otis is ostensibly the focus, characters like Eric, Maeve, and Adam have all had a share of the limelight and driven key side plots. Although a future Sex Education with a more Otis-centric approach could feasibly work, it wouldn’t feel true to the tone of the original, which made his complicated relationships with his peers a key concern. In many ways, the Sex Education departures are important not just for how the characters relate to Otis, but for how they define the entire fabric of the series.
Beyond the practicalities of actors wanting to pursue different career paths, the Sex Education plot actually necessitates a reset. Already, keeping the same group of characters within a high school setting is starting to stretch the grounds of credulity. Inevitably, as school ends and the next chapter begins, relationships change, people drift, and time moves on. Ignoring this reality in an attempt to recapture the magic of Sex Education season 1 – even if major players weren’t leaving – would be extremely misguided. Sex Education, therefore, has to change anyway. The fact that there are also so many big departures only makes the situation more desperate.
How Existing Sex Education Characters Could Still Appear
Although a new cast is the best way forward for Sex Education after season 4, there are ways in which the series could incorporate legacy characters. For instance, while many of the major players’ circumstances and situations are determined by age, this isn’t the case for everyone. One prominent example is someone like Gillian Anderson’s Dr. Jean Milburn. As a well-known sex therapist, it’s easy to see how she could be roped into another environment like Moordale to consult on more teens running wild. This could even be done in such a way that Milburn remains very much on the periphery, rather than serving as the show’s focus, thus allowing a new cast to thrive.
Likewise, if a future Sex Education plot involves other schools taking inspiration from Moordale, it’s easy to imagine a situation where the new cast tries to track down someone like Otis for advice on continuing the sexual revolution, or comes into contact with a teacher from the school. Such a tangential approach would allow Sex Education to stay connected with its earlier seasons, while further analyzing the themes that made it so successful. Given their dominating presence, it’s hard to imagine how Sex Education can survive without its main cast. However, with some creative thinking, there is still a viable future for Netflix’s smash hit.