Cinematic Deja-Vu (Netflix’s You and Sexual Education)

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I hate the title of this post but I couldn’t think of a better one that describes what I was wanting to talk about in this post so I suppose it’ll have to stay. I just finished watching two shows and I got this weird feeling that I have, because I don’t know any other word that describes this feeling, as “Cinematic Deja-Vu.” The shows I’m referring to are both netflix shows, You and Sexual Education. Spoiler alert for both shows, as well as for the show Dexter and the movie Charlie Bartlett. (I was hoping to avoid naming these right at the beginning but for the sake of warning whatever reader may stumble upon this of any spoilers of any of these films or shows I just thought I’d spoil my own post instead.)  So now what is Cinematic Deja-Vu? Well as I was watching You I first got this strange feeling like I may have already seen this show. It wasn’t anything that immediately stuck out to me, other than the fact I’ve seen a show that’s made me relate to a serial killer before. Well Joe from You wasn’t really a serial killer at first, but he did eventually become one (despite the fact that he might not see himself as one.) Nothing too bad as many shows and movies have us rooting for such anti-“heroes”. However as I continued watching it there was more and more to the show that brought up memories of watching Dexter years ago. Small things such as the constant inner monologue throughout, the allusive mentor that saw this kid with inner demons that he helped teach to help channel those dark urges as well as what to do in order to not get caught when he does let those urges get the better of him, and of course the killing, the cat and mouse like drama where he’s making little mistakes that are slowly getting the people around him to be more suspicious of the facade he’s living and probably the most important similarity of them all: both shows make us root for the killer to get away with their crimes and both understand and sympathize with their killings. Each show does it in a different way though.

Dexter tries and makes us believe that each kill is done in an attempt to rid the world of one more murderer that often has avoided the justice system (thus making the excuse or argument that Dexter is just wronging the rights of our broken judicial system and giving these people what they deserve who otherwise would have lived free not having to ever pay for their crimes.) At least that’s the way Dexter justifies his killings. He’s well aware of his inner demons and never shy’s away from the fact that he is just as dark and disturbed as the people he is trying to kill. This is the one separation he makes between him and them, and because of that the one reason he feels he’s not the one who deserves to be on his “killing tables.” This is where we get into some major differences between You’s Joe and Dexter. Joe Goldberg’s motivation throughout the show is not enacting justice but actually his motivation is “love” and the deluded idea that he is the one that needs to protect her. If I put in my two cents I’d say both characters are both indeed using delusions to be able to justify their actions and to keep living their normal lives. I would go as far as too even say both are good people.. I’m saying this very reluctantly though. Maybe it’s due to my disbelief in the idea of “good” or “bad” people, but also I believe both characters do have a sense of morality and empathy. It’s just their delusions and twisted way of thinking that has them believing (and for a brief moment has the audience believing as well) that they are doing either what’s most right or what’s necessary given their situation. I talked with my friend about the similarities between these two shows and he thinks I’m crazy or just reaching at straws to make this connection, but I do feel that there is a thematic similarity between the two. There’s enough difference between how the actual show tells their stories and even enough differences between the main characters that have me concluding that it definitely isn’t copying or a “rip off” of any sorts. I don’t even know if the similarities are intentional, but I definitely wouldn’t be surprised if the author of the original book for You lists Dexter as one of their inspirations for writing the book.

I believe the next show doesn’t have quite as many differences for me to ever doubt that this show was either directly adapted or inspired from a surprisingly weird and obscure source. I really wish my old post was still here but unfortunately it was one of the posts that got lost with this site’s host migration, but back in 2017 (I think? maybe late 2016?) I wrote a “review” or more so just a post about how much I enjoyed and related to the main character of Charlie Bartlett. For those who haven’t heard of this 2007 coming of age film starring Anton Yelchin, Kat Dennings, and Robert Downey Jr, it’s this film about a teenager who’s mother’s immense wealth put him in a position where he has essentially an unlimited resource of prescription drugs to which he uses that and his extensive history with mental health services to offer the students at his new high school unlicensed therapy sessions as a means to gain status and popularity. Now, if you’ve seen Sexual Education or at least know what it’s about you might begin to see the big similarity already. Sexual Education’s Otis Millburn’s mother is a sex therapist and due to his long history of listening to his mother’s work with her clients and quite possibly just her need to make sure her son was well informed in the confusing mess that is sexuality, he uses this knowledge to offer sex therapy sessions to his fellow classmates. While having a few differences such as the supporting characters not really having too many connections or similarities to the one in the 2007 movie, the main premise and a lot of the themes and narrative beats are displayed almost verbatim. Because there’s so many similarities I’m probably going to be going back and forth between describing them and contrasting it to how the two shows are different, but lets begin with well.. the beginning. Otis’s introduction into the therapy game is almost entirely accidental. One of the school bully’s is revealed to have problems with his impotence and while talking to him through his problem, something which he really only does because he feels a moral obligation to help this person who is in desperate need of someone’s assistance. This is in deep contrast to Charlie Bartlett, and contributes to the main difference in character which is their likability, but in the movie his initial goal is to just sell pills to the other students at one of their school dances. He later then “accidentally” is thrust into the therapist role when a classmate asks if he could talk with him in private and asks if he had anything to help him with his severe panic attacks. I find it amusing that both first “therapy sessions” start within the school’s bathrooms, more specifically the bathroom stalls. I don’t know if that was an intended nod or if merely just similar thinking but to be fair having the session take place within the stalls is very reminiscent to someone talking at a confessional so it makes sense that these two films might have similar locations for this kind of scene.

When I was just at the third episode of Sexual Education it started becoming really clear the possibly inspired similarities from the 2007 film and how a lot of it has been changed. They both include a supporting character who one of their main conflicts is the relationship between them and their parent who is also the head master/principal of the school. In Sexual Education it’s the school bully who’s overbearing father causes him to lash out often just trying to get in trouble but he usually ends up getting away with it (as far as the school punishing them goes) and then we have Charlie Bartlett, who’s love interest is actually the one with the father who’s in charge of the school. I think this ends up making more of an interesting dynamic just because he too is overbearing but it’s shown out of love and an incessant need to protect his daughter from awful people who might try and use her and take advantage of her especially when it comes to who her father is. Her father wasn’t all that wrong either because who she’s seeing, Charlie, is actually not a great influence and is breaking so many school rules and has a history of getting in trouble. So he has every right to be cautious of him and his daughter’s relationship, but of course he goes about this in a completely controlling way. Both this movie and the show seem to touch on a very important lesson that we all kind of should know instinctively but as we grow up we tend to get absorbed in our own worlds and think we know what’s best for other people when really these are still just kids that are trying to figure shit out. Everyone is having problems and dealing with serious issues such as depression, the need to self-medicate and self harm, or even suicidal ideations. And despite many kids being sexually active its frightening just how many of those people are extremely misinformed and just oblivious when it comes to their own sexual health and how to take care of themselves in this regard. They’re all just needing some help and some people to talk to and we don’t really give these kids many opportunity to come and get that help that they need.

This is why Charlie Bartlett resonated with me so well when I watched it a few years back. Having just graduated and suffering through a period that felt like a hell I would never escape from. A hell in which I didn’t think anyone would ever understand or care about. I felt alone and I felt like I had to tackle all of this by myself despite not even having the slightest idea where to begin. There’s such a large stigma surrounding mental health services and thankfully in the past few years that stigma has decreased immensely but it’s still there. A lot of people tend to get the idea that admitting that you need help or that you need someone to talk to is admitting that there is something wrong with you and nobody wants to admit that. We all just want to be normal and especially in high school we all just want to be able to fit in. After I came out of the hospital in high school after finally admitting to having suicidal ideations and not knowing how to stop that desire.. I came out and I had a new perspective on life. I saw the hurt around me and everybody after I said “Depression was taking over me and I just felt like I needed to kill myself” I was appalled at the amount of classmates, other students, even close friends that raised their hands and said “me too.” I wanted to help, that’s what I thought my purpose in life was going to be. I had survived this and I was going to use this newfound knowledge to make sure these people I cared about never had to go through that. It was a dangerous game I was playing because I also learned that sometimes no matter what you do you can’t help some people and when you fail not knowing that or more so not having accepted that fact yet, it eats away at you. You feel responsible for their lives and their hurt. It broke me for a good bit. I just wasn’t strong enough nor even remotely experienced enough to know what to do when things got as serious as they got with some people.

And this is why I somewhat enjoy Charlie Bartlett better. Sexual Education has better writing and is just a much more enjoyable experience watching honestly, but by the end of it Charlie Bartlett’s moral of the story rang more true. The movie had way more heart than in all the episodes of Sexual Education put together. And it’s all to do with one major difference in which I actually thought Sexual Education was following Charlie Bartlett’s shoes and touching upon this moral but it fell short. Let me explain. Charlie Bartlett has a lot of success when it comes to his unofficial therapy sessions with his classmates and helps them learn a lot about themselves and helps them just generally with their lives. However, he also meets this kid named Kip Crombwell and initially their first session is just about his panic attack and Charlie does his best to help him out and gives him medication that help with that anxiety. We see this kid pop up now and again throughout the movie as Charlie becomes more busy with his newfound popularity and increased demand of therapy sessions. What ends up happening is he feels like he’s being ignored, that he’s invisible and nobody cares about him and he uses the medication that was “prescribed” to him by Charlie and tries to take enough to kill himself. This is when the main moral of the story shows its face. You can’t take that role upon yourself especially as a teenager, as a young kid, you can’t help everyone. And pretending like you can like you’re going to be there to save everyone is a sure way of hurting both you and possibly that person as well. I’ve included a little scene from the movie that displays the effect of taking this role upon yourself has, and was and still is how I react to the overwhelming amount of guilt, responsibility, and stress I’ve put on myself for the sake of trying to help people through rough times that I am completely unqualified of helping them with.

Sexual Education has a similar character but does it in a pretty forgettable way. Not just in the fact that it’s not a memorable character to the viewers but I mean the scene and the character themselves are completely forgotten by the main cast after it occurs. In Sexual Education there’s this kid who comes up to Otis asking him for help trying to get the girl he’s in love with. After Otis decides to help it is later revealed that this girl has made it perfectly clear that she’s had no interest in this kid, but he still doesn’t see it that way. Otis’ advice to him is to of course give up on this girl and move on and that seems to be the end of this character’s arc up until he randomly shows up near the season finale having taken some pills sold to him by Maeve’s (Otis’ close friend and crush) brother. He’s wacked out of his mind, climbs up a tall set piece they have on display and boats to everyone at the dance that he’s about to kill himself because nobody loves him. Otis talks him down, surprisingly effortlessly actually, tells him stuff about how there’s always going to be someone who loves him and even though that person isn’t the current girl he loves that he’s a great guy who shows how much dedication he can have and he just needs to hang in there and eventually he’ll find someone who loves him. As long as he didn’t cut that opportunity short and jumped then. So the kid steps down and ends up falling off the damn set piece anyway but miraculously lands on a table that breaks his fall and just gets sent to the hospital with a minor injury. The show sort of touches on how tough it is to take the therapist role and the amount of stress that it causes and most importantly the severe consequences of what happens when you are dealing with people’s especially teenagers’ psyches. However that’s about where the show ends that part of the moral because Otis doesn’t show any real impact towards it after having saved him and goes right back to doing sessions again. Charlie did go back to sessions afterwards but it still talked about how much of a toll its had on him and he doesn’t do so until after visiting Kip and trying his best to help this kid and give him the attention and care he’s been asking for. He at least sees the wrong in his actions and tries to make amends but meanwhile Sexual Education’s Otis never sees this as a bad thing. He doesn’t take into account how severe the consequences can be if he ever fucks up and says the wrong thing. And while the other parts of the show tend to show more heart than this movie does, this is where the movie succeeds over the show and the reason I’d much rather prefer to re-watch Charlie Bartlett than Sexual Education.

Fuck, on a side note though having rewatched this to make sure my comparisons were a bit more accurate this brought up a lot of memories about my time in high school and a little bit after and it has not been a good idea. I saw myself as Charlie Bartlett as a kid who had good intentions and wanted to help all those around him but never really took the time to stop and enjoy just being a kid, just admit the fact that I don’t have all the answers and sometimes I just couldn’t help the people I really wanted to help. Instead I just tried my hardest until it destroyed me, and I always worry I may have made things worse for the people who saw me as their only light in that darkness. Their only savior and I never wanted to be seen that way but I definitely think that’s how I ended up presenting myself and I am glad I have become a lot more self aware of this, but the guilt from the times I’ve failed still stick with me to this very day and even after all that I still want to just help the people I love and care about feel better. Even some of the people who aren’t in my life anymore, but in those cases my involvement or my help would just make things worse if I tried so I have forced myself to not do or say anything there. It’s been rough. Maybe it’ll get easier in time. Oh and I suppose before I end this post I just gotta suggest that you watch either of these shows and/or movies because they’re pretty great especially Charlie Bartlett or Sexual Education they both have some pretty great morals that help teach you a bit about sexual and mental health.

-T.

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