- Sex Education’s change in setting to Cavendish Sixth Form College brings both advantages and disadvantages, as it loses the authenticity of Moordale but gains a fresh backdrop.
- The necessity for the school change was due to the real location of Moordale being demolished, forcing the show to embrace the opportunity of a new setting.
- The shift in schools revitalizes Sex Education’s cast by shedding numerous characters, allowing for new voices and storylines while minimizing cast bloat.
Sex Education saw the series forced to bring about a dramatic change in its status quo, but in the end, the move worked to the show’s advantage. The ensemble series centers on Otis, a British teenager who begins to act as a sex therapist to the sexually confused student body of his secondary school. While the first three seasons take place at the fictional school of Moordale, the Sex Education season 3 finale enacts a risky maneuver, shutting the school down and forcing the series cast to relocate for its 4th season. The new school, Cavendish Sixth Form College, presents a wildly different backdrop for the show’s final outing.
Sex Education ditching the Moordale setting naturally comes with some disadvantages. The show lost numerous key cast members in the reshuffle, as well as the sense of authenticity Moordale’s chaotic atmosphere provided. What’s more, Moordale permanently shutting down gives the season 3 ending a mixed message, as it’s the students’ principled stand for their beliefs that gets the school shut down. However, the setting change carries enough advantages to offset these criticisms. Ultimately, the school change is for the better, although Sex Education’s reasons for the shift were mainly pragmatic.
Sex Education Had No Choice In Changing Schools
While Sex Education’s school change was a bold move, the series didn’t have much of a choice in the location shift. The first three seasons used an abandoned school in South Wales as the site of Sex Education‘s Moordale Secondary School. The location not only served exterior shots, but also housed almost all of the series’ recurring sets. Sex Education art director Christina Tom told The Mirror that “everything was set there – all the offices.” It was the ideal site for the Netflix hit, but things were thrown into chaos when the land was purchased by a housing company with the intention of building a new housing project.
According to Tom, the site was in the process of being demolished all throughout the filming of season 3, resulting in a hectic filming environment that required an impromptu fence to be put up around the set. As such, the season 3 plot point that sees Moordale sold to property developers is both a product of necessity and a meta-joke toward the real location’s fate. Reconstructing the old Moordale sets in studios and minimizing exterior shots might have allowed Sex Education to keep its original setting for one more season, but the show elected instead to embrace the opportunity presented by a change in settings.
Changing Schools Revitalized Sex Education’s Cast
Sex Education season 4’s cast changes present the most dramatic difference between seasons 3 and 4. The show seized on the opportunity of the school change to drop numerous characters, including Lily, Ola, Anwar, Olivia, and Miss Sands, among others. For a series whose greatest strength is its well-developed cast of characters, Sex Education’s call to shed numerous players from the roster is a particularly risky one. However, it demonstrates a keen awareness of the oversized cast problem that often plagues ensemble series as they reach their later seasons. By season 3, Sex Education’s cast was growing out of control.
The need to add interesting new characters with every season inevitably causes shows like Sex Education and Stranger Things to become overburdened with characters. Incorporating every major character into the story causes runtimes to balloon and often robs the series of the agility required for efficient storytelling to take place. By shedding several characters from its core cast, Sex Education makes room for an exciting and diverse array of new voices, while keeping its cast bloat to a minimum. Such changes allowed the writers to take established characters in compelling new directions, such as Ruby being forced to re-examine her mean girl persona after losing her entourage.
Cavendish Sixth Form College Is Sex Education’s Manifesto
The difference between Sex Education’s season 3 and season 4 schools is striking. While Moordale was an unruly, run-down, and often toxic environment that strikes an instant chord of recognition, season 4’s sleek and hyper-ethical Cavendish strains believability. Sex Education never made claims of realism; the very first episode’s depiction of students having sex on the main path instantly paints Moordale as a heightened world. However, the petty, paradoxical, and frustrating school politics gave the school a grounding authenticity. When the Sex Education season 4 cast arrives at Cavendish, all of those frustrating, petty details that make up the lived experience of school life are nowhere to be found.
Cavendish is not hostile to its students, nor are the students hostile to one another. Rather, the school is well-funded, and seems dedicated to treating its student body with respect, offering them the autonomy to forge an educational path that best suits their needs. Likewise, the student population has effectively eliminated the institutionalized toxicity that allows issues like misogyny and homophobia to run rampant in many schools. It’s obvious that Cavendish isn’t like a real-life school, but this is by design. In its first three seasons, Sex Education underlines the systemic problems inherent to secondary schooling, but in season 4, it uses the Utopian Cavendish to highlight another way.
Sex Education’s New School Clarifies The Period & Setting Confusion
Sex Education’s period and setting have long been a source of viewer confusion. While the series is set in the fictional British town of Moordale with a predominantly British-accented cast, a great deal of the show’s aesthetic overlaps with that of American high schools. Students wearing letter jackets, using American-style lockers, and attending lavish dances are enough to confuse audiences; the added period confusion of iPhone-using teens playing vinyl records and driving cars from the 1980s and 90s only compounds the issue. It’s theorized that the culture-blending is supposed to maximize international appeal, but the glaring lack of authenticity could easily take viewers out of the action.
Sex Education’s Cavendish College of season 4 no longer occupies an uneasy mix of countries and time periods. The school, with its modern aesthetic and widespread use of tablets, is clearly contemporary and displays none of the trappings of American high schools. Nevertheless, the new setting fulfills the same purpose as seasons 1-3’s aesthetic. Series creator Laurie Nunn told Radio Times that the look, heavily inspired by 80s John Hughes movies, was intended to escape the dismal associations that traditional British schools often carry in TV and film depictions. With Cavendish’s bright, pastel aesthetic and welcoming atmosphere, Sex Education season 4 negates this problem without resorting to a confusing setting.
Sex Education is a comedic-drama series that follows various students, parents, and staff of Moordale Secondary School and their awkward sexual dilemmas. The series primarily focuses on student Otis Milburn with a dour outlook on sex due to his mother’s occupation as a sex therapist who has several affairs with zero attachments. Seeing an opportunity to capitalize on his second-hand knowledge and ambivalence to sex, Otis and his friend Eric set up an in-school clinic to advise other students with sexual issues. This clinic becomes compromised when Otis begins to have feelings for one of his clients.
- Release Date
- January 11, 2019
- Gillian Anderson, Ncuti Gatwa, Tanya Reynolds, Aimee Lou Wood, Alistair Petrie, Kedar Williams-Stirling, Connor Swindells, Asa Butterfield, Emma Mackey, Patricia Allison
- Comedy, Drama