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The Guardian - UK
The Guardian - UK
Barbara Ellen

The week in TV: Sex Education; Chris Packham: Is It Time to Break the Law?; Picasso: The Beauty and the Beast; Juice – review

Gillian Anderson and Asa Butterfield as Jean and Otis Milburn in season four of Sex Education.
‘Radiating “frazzled”’: Gillian Anderson, with Asa Butterfield, in season four of Sex Education. Netflix Photograph: Thomas Wood/Thomas Wood/Netflix

Sex Education (Netflix)
Chris Packham: Is It Time to Break the Law? (Channel 4) |
Picasso: The Beauty and the Beast (BBC Two) | iPlayer
Juice (BBC Three/BBC One) | iPlayer

Has Sex Education (Netflix) used its fourth and final series to grow up? There’s nowhere near the usual amount of hyperactive humping in this eight-part helping of Laurie Nunn’s teen comedy drama.

Don’t get me wrong – there’s sexual content (“dick pics”, phone sex, fingers up bums). But where are the fabled sex montages? (Did I blink and miss something?) For a global television phenomenon built on the tragicomic fusion of youthful exploration and sexual dysfunction, it all feels curiously well behaved.

It’s now set at Cavendish sixth-form college (Moordale secondary closed down at the end of series three), a kind of hipster incubator of yoga and meditation. Shambling everyteen Otis (Asa Butterfield) has a sex therapist rival (Thaddea Graham), and he misses girlfriend Maeve (Emma Mackey), who starts the series studying in the US with a deliciously bitter professor played by Dan Levy. While some original cast members feel sidelined, there’s focus on non-binary Cal (Dua Saleh), and new characters include a deaf girl (Alexandra James) and a trans couple, played by Anthony Lexa and Felix Mufti (the LGBTQ+ presence remains strong).

Meanwhile, Otis’s mother (Gillian Anderson, radiating “frazzled”) deals with a new baby, depression and a radio show (Hannah Gadsby plays her producer). Aimee (Aimee Lou Wood) discovers a creative way to process her past sexual assault. Eric (the irrepressibly magnetic Ncuti Gatwa, the incoming Doctor in Doctor Who) meditates on sexuality and faith. Elsewhere, themes include abuse, bullying, disability, grief and more.

The problem isn’t the lack of sex – it’s the low energy. Sex Education (earthier than Euphoria; naughtier than Heartstopper) has earned its spot, but this series feels like a strangely subdued curtain call for a show that never shied away from celebrating teen sexuality at peak raunch. That said, gradually, as the episodes go by, it starts feeling like a brave, even classy move to go out, not with, as it were, a bang but with maturity and sensitivity. Ta-ra, then, Sex Education. In your way, you helped change the youth TV conversation for ever.

The one-off Channel 4 documentary Chris Packham: Is It Time to Break the Law? is tense from the off. As the naturalist intones his climate message (“We are sleepwalking into an apocalypse”), oil is depicted cascading down his face. After years of peaceful climate protest (“I’m carrying the guilt of generations who didn’t act”), Packham has lost faith in the political system and wonders if “radical” (illegal) activism is the way forward. “Should I be joining them?” he ponders.

It’s clear that Packham, still a punk to his marrow, isn’t musing entirely rhetorically. Without directly mentioning his usual employer (the BBC), he observes that law-breaking wouldn’t please “the more conservative bodies I work with”. Among his interviewees are young, desperate climate protesters, as well as Andreas Malm, who wrote the 2021 manifesto How to Blow Up a Pipeline, and Greta Thunberg, who says: “For me, breaking the law, as long as it doesn’t endanger or harm anyone, it’s not that big of a deal.” (Later, Thunberg is detained in Germany for disobedience to the authorities.)

Chris Packham with activist Andreas Malm in Is It Time to Break the Law?
‘Clearly torn’: Chris Packham, left, with activist Andreas Malm in Is It Time to Break the Law? Photograph: Adrian Sibley/Proper Content

Packham perceptibly slumps when talking to Peter Lilley, who sits on the House of Lords environment and climate change committee and declares himself a climate “lukewarmer”. Another interviewee, Extinction Rebellion and Just Stop Oil co-founder Roger Hallam, tells Packham: “I can tell you with absolute categorical certainty that major things will happen when public figures do what public figures have always done at time of crisis – which is lead.”

I won’t reveal how this documentary ends, but from the start I’m unconvinced that Packham should turn to law-breaking. Like David Attenborough, he’s in a uniquely persuasive and invaluable position as a mainstream naturalist broadcaster. Surely to risk losing that influence, that voice, would be hugely counterproductive? As for Is It Time to Break the Law?, it’s striking how genuine it feels, how clearly torn Packham is. What could have been an empty celebrity pose becomes something much deeper.

It would be impossible to overstate the legacy of Pablo Picasso. Walking around the Picasso 1932: Love, Fame, Tragedy exhibition at the Tate Modern in 2018, even I (an art ignoramus) could feel the colossal range and electric charge of his work. He was also, by most accounts, a dreadful misogynist, and such an impenitent repeat offender (discarding women, taking young, naive lovers) that he comes across like a cruel, narcissistic caricature.

Pablo Picasso and Francoise Gilot going out on a pedalo, Golfe Juan, French Riviera, 1946
Pablo Picasso and Françoise Gilot in 1946. © Michel Sima/Succession Picasso/DACS, London 2023/ Bridgeman Images, Michel Sima Photograph: Michel Sima/Succession Picasso/DACS, London 2023/Bridgeman Images

It’s all there in the three-part BBC Two docuseries Picasso: The Beauty and the Beast, marking the 50th anniversary of the artist’s death at 91. His life, work, decades-spanning supremacy and drive (he left behind more than 100,000 artworks). His refusal during the second world war to leave occupied Paris or collaborate with the Nazis. There’s also a rare chance to visit museum archives, and an impressive array of talking heads including critics, artists (Julian Schnabel, Jenny Saville) and direct descendants.

These include daughter Paloma, who learned of her father’s death via the radio, as he had cut off contact with the family when her artist mother, Françoise Gilot, defied him by writing her book on their marriage. With her chic black bob, perched like a marvellous, imperious raven, it’s clear where Paloma’s loyalties lie as she observes: “We can’t say: Oh, he’s a monster or he’s a genius. He is just a man.” This absorbing series is never less than red-blooded.

Please be your best patient self with the new six-part BBC Three comedy Juice. Based on an Edinburgh fringe show created by and starring Pakistani-born comic and writer Mawaan Rizwan, it’s about an eccentric young man, Jamma, his work (developing “yoghurt for men”), his family (played by Rizwan’s real mother and brother, Shahnaz and Nabhaan) and his relationship with boyfriend, Guy (Russell Tovey), a preternaturally understanding therapist.

Mawaan Rizwan in a red tracksuit standing in the middle of plants reading a magazine
Mawaan Rizwan in the ‘gloriously stupid’ Juice. BBC/WarnerMedia Photograph: Liam Daniel/BBC/WarnerMedia

Just as playful, insubordinate Jamma resembles a cartoon character, Juice is boldly surrealist: office plants morph into jungle foliage; confetti represents orgasms. At first it’s just too chaotic (pass the Nurofen!). Then I get to the third episode (a deranged restaurant dinner) and I’m howling. As erratic and messy as Juice is – even for a new comedy – it’s also original, gloriously stupid and worth a look.

Star ratings (out of five)
Sex Education
Chris Packham: Is It Time to Break the Law?
Picasso: The Beauty and the Beast ★★★★
Juice ★★★

What else I’m watching

The Super Models
(Apple TV+)
Lush four-part docuseries on the 1980s/90s “supers”: Linda Evangelista, Naomi Campbell, Christy Turlington and Cindy Crawford (the fifth “super”, Tatjana Patitz, died earlier this year). Strutting through fashion, friendship, racism, abuse, illness and more, it’s less synthetic than you might expect.

Linda Evangelista, Christy Turlington, Naomi Campbell and Cindy Crawford in The Super Models.
Linda Evangelista, Christy Turlington, Naomi Campbell and Cindy Crawford in The Super Models. Photograph: Misan Harriman

(Channel 4)
Check out this twisty, brooding crime drama that dominated the 2021 Israeli equivalent of the Baftas. Considered the country’s answer to Line of Duty, it stars Shalom Assayag as an idealist cop approaching retirement.

Married at First Sight UK
The return of the reality show that emotional intelligence (make complete strangers get married) and common decency (film the ensuing meltdown) forgot. Consider this both a recommendation and a warning.

• This article was amended on 24 September 2023. An earlier version said in the comedy Juice, Jamma’s boyfriend Guy was his therapist. To clarify, Guy is a therapist not but Jamma’s.

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