Why does Sex Education season 4 looks like it’s set in the Eighties? Everything to know, from plot to cast

Earlier this summer, Netflix shared some jaw-dropping news: Sex Education’s fourth season would also be its last.

There had already been some speculation about the show’s future, with Ncuti Gatwa (who plays Eric) becoming the next Doctor Who, and Emma Mackey (Maeve) appearing in Greta Gerwig’s long-awaited take on Barbie. Asa Butterfield (Otis) had also been busy elsewhere, taking on a number of film roles including last year’s black comedy Flux Gourmet, and forthcoming thriller All Fun And Games.

“We are incredibly proud of Sex Education and feel indebted to our brilliant writers, cast and crew who put so much heart into making every episode,” said showrunner Laurie Nunn in an accompanying statement. “They have worked tirelessly to bring you the final series, and we can’t wait to share it with you.”

So, when the final season dropped on September 21, fans were on the edge of their seats waiting to discover the fate of their favourite characters. So far Season 4 has pulled in a wide range of reviews from fans and critics who have been split by the fourth chapter’s chosen direction, as leading cast members Otis, Eric and Maeve start at new schools.

Fans have been reminded of the unique aesthetics of the Sex Education, too, as the clothes and colouring of the new season once again hark back to an Eighties American high school. Given that the show is set in the UK in the modern day, Sex Education’s look has become one of its most noticeable components. But what’s going on there?

Well, although we don’t have an exact answer, some of British screenwriter and playwright Laurie Nunn’s past comments do point to the reasoning behind the show’s slightly odd look.

Speaking to The Guardian about the show, Nunn said, “The pitch of the show is so heightened. It’s about this kid who gives out sex advice in the toilet cubicle. It needed a really heightened world to match it. Moordale’s not a real place: it’s almost like a comic book, a teenage utopia.”

Speaking to LADbible in 2021, Nunn also spoke about the show’s style, saying: “I think part of that is just to do with the way I naturally write, but also a lot of my references were kind of from American film and TV shows that I loved when I was younger.

“When [director Ben Taylor] came on board [with] the project and we both met each other for the first time, he had a shared passion for all of the same American teen genre stuff, and we both got really excited about how we could create this fictional world that felt very elevated and aspirational.”

Here’s everything else to know about Sex Education’s final chapter.

Where did we get to?

The Netflix show, which first aired in January 2019, is set in Britain and focuses on secondary school student Otis Milburn (Butterfield). He is initially ambivalent about sex because his mum, Jean (Gillian Anderson), is a sex therapist, but then ends up setting up an (informal, non-accredited) sex therapy clinic with his friend Maeve (Mackey). Otis becomes attracted to Maeve, creating problems for their joint venture.

The second series saw an influx of new students at the school, which naturally shook things up. Otis got a girlfriend who wasn’t Maeve, and there was a chlamydia outbreak at school. Then, in series 3, it was a new school year; Otis had yet another new girlfriend, Ruby (Mimi Keene) and there was also a baby on the way (for Otis’s mum, played exquisitely by Anderson), as well as a new headmistress.

At the end of series 3, Maeve left to study in the US, precipitating an emotional farewell between the two friends (who got together in the series’ closing episodes). Plus Moordale Secondary School shut down after a sexual revolution of sorts.

Ncuti Gatwa as Eric Effiong, Connor Swindells as Adam Groff in Season 3 (Sam Taylor/Netflix)
Ncuti Gatwa as Eric Effiong, Connor Swindells as Adam Groff in Season 3 (Sam Taylor/Netflix)

What’s the plot of season four?

The streaming giant said: “Following the closure of Moordale Secondary, Otis and Eric now face a new frontier — their first day at Cavendish Sixth Form College. Otis is nervous about setting up his new clinic, while Eric is praying they won’t be losers again.

“But Cavendish is a culture shock for all the Moordale students — they thought they were progressive but this new college is another level. There’s daily yoga in the communal garden, a strong sustainability vibe and a group of kids who are popular for being … kind?!

“Viv is totally thrown by the college’s student-led, non-competitive approach, while Jackson is still struggling to get over Cal. Aimee tries something new by taking an Art A Level and Adam grapples with whether mainstream education is for him. Over in the U.S., Maeve is living her dream at prestigious Wallace University, being taught by cult author Thomas Molloy. Otis is pining after her, while adjusting to not being an only child at home, or the only therapist on campus.”

Who is in the cast?

Dua Saleh as Cal, Kedar Williams Stirling as Jackson Marchetti in Season 3 (Sam Taylor/Netflix)
Dua Saleh as Cal, Kedar Williams Stirling as Jackson Marchetti in Season 3 (Sam Taylor/Netflix)

Dan Levy, best known for his Emmy-winning turn as David Rose in Schitt’s Creek (which he also co-wrote, produced and directed) has joined the production. He plays Maeve’s Ivy League college tutor.

Actors Butterfield, Mackey, Gatwa, Aimee-Lou Wood, Connor Swindells, Kedar Williams-Stirling, Mimi Keene, George Robinson, Chinenye Ezeudu, Dua Saleh, Alistair Petrie, Samantha Spiro, Jim Howick, Rakhee Thakrar and Daniel Ings have all returned to their roles.

Doctor Who’s Thaddea Graham and Somewhere Boy’s Lisa McGrillis has joined the show for its final season. Model Jodie Turner-Smith, comedian Eshaan Akbar and actor Marie Reuther have also joined the star-studded cast.

However, several of the show’s main cast, such as Tanya Reynolds (Lily), Patricia Allison (Ola) and Rakhee Thakrar (Miss Sands) are not back for the new series.

Speaking to Radio Times about the change, Reynolds previously said: “It’s just the natural progression of these shows — when you have such big ensemble casts and so many characters, I think you have to let a few older characters go to make way for newer ones, which is absolutely the right thing, the way it should happen.”

Who has created the show?

The series has been created by Laurie Nunn, who was shortlisted for the prestigious playwriting Bruntwood Prize for her first full-length play King Brown in 2017.

She was onto a winner when she fought for Sex Education to be made – according to Netflix, Sex Education had over 447 million viewing hours from September 12 to October 24, 2021 alone.

Can you catch up?

Yes. For those of you joining the TV series now, you’re not too late. Sex Education seasons 1-3 are available on Netflix, along with the fourth and final season.

Sex Education season 4 is available now on Netflix