Friday, September 22, 2023



The crime novels dividing opinion

Recently, authors like Richard Osman have become bestsellers with very comforting mystery novels, often involving amateur sleuths in rural locations. David Barnett reflects on the phenomenon.A century ago, in 1923, crime fiction was truly flourishing. Agatha Christie's second novel featuring her Belgian detective Hercule Poirot, Murder on the Links, was published. Dorothy L Sayers burst on to the scene with her debut novel Whose Body?, and introduced the world to Lord Peter Wimsey. Meanwhile Dublin-born detective author Freeman Wills Croft published The Groote Park Murder, his fourth novel, and went on to write 30 more. More like this: –      What Agatha Christie says about Britain –      The ultimate spy novel –      The best gothic books of all time This period is known to aficionados as the Golden Age of Detective Fiction. However in recent years, books by those authors have earned a new label: "cosy crime".Cosy crime author Richard Osman is a British publishing phenomenon – and is now making waves in the US too (Credit: Alamy)What's interesting, though, is how cosy crime is also flourishing in the hands of contemporary British authors. Novels grouped into this new sub-genre by the likes of Richard Osman, Reverend Richard Coles, Janice Hallett, Ian Moore and JM Hall have been booming in the UK. Released on Tuesday, Osman's novel The Last Devil to Die, the latest in his Thursday Murder Club series, has become the fastest-selling hardback novel by a British author in UK sales history. And this literary strand may now be set to enrapture the US too. Osman, the poster boy for this new wave of cosy crime, has been making a mark on The New York Times's bestseller list, and is currently on a publicity tour there promoting The Last Devil to Die. So what exactly is "cosy" about a murder story? Well, the terminology distinguishes these novels from other kinds of crime fiction, such as police procedurals or psychological thrillers, which are often dark, gritty and upsetting. Cosy crime, on the other hand, tends not to linger on the death that is often at the centre of the story. Of course, someone is usually dispatched in violent fashion, by way of poison, stabbing, shooting or a good cudgeling from whatever is to hand.But cosy crime is more about the thrill of the investigation, generally carried out by an amateur sleuth or sleuths such as Christie's Miss Marple or in Osman's case, the residents of sleepy countryside retirement village. And the murder mysteries are often set against a typically English backdrop of, as former British Prime Minister John Major once extolled, "long shadows on county grounds, warm beer, invincible green suburbs". Police are generally baffled, suspects are bountiful, and murders are imaginative. Denouements are satisfying and leave the reader with the sense that crime does not pay and ultimately, all is well with the world. The 'cosy crime' king In becoming a publishing phenomenon, Osman had the advantage of having a well-established "cosy" persona thanks to his fame in the UK as a quiz show host, fronting popular series like Pointless and Richard Osman's House of Games. (Before that, he had found success behind the camera as a creative director at production company Endemol.) In 2019, he landed a seven-figure publishing deal for the series began with The Thursday Murder Club. However, Osman tells BBC Culture by email that when he started writing the first book in 2017, he certainly wasn’t consciously setting out to write a "cosy crime" novel. "When I started writing The Thursday Murder Club, the successful crime books of the time were mainly dark psychological thrillers with unreliable narrators," he says. "I just wanted to write an Agatha Christie-style thriller but with some humour and with a modern twist. A book I’d love to read, but couldn't find. I'd never heard the term 'cosy crime'."With its amateur sleuth in a rural setting, Agatha Christie's Miss Marple series is quintessential cosy crime (Credit: Alamy)He doesn’t necessarily think his books are cosy, anyway. "Lots of fabulously bad things happen under the cosy exterior," he says. "But I wouldn't say that Christie and Sayers were [cosy] either. So I'm not sure I've ever read a 'cosy crime' novel." This week has also seen the publication of Murder in the Blitz, the debut, World War Two-set cosy mystery by Flic (writing as FL) Everett, which will shortly be followed by the sequel, Murder on the Home Front. She also thinks that there are misconceptions about what "cosy crime" can encompass. "By 'cosy', we often mean 'not gritty' – ie no forensic poking about, no dwelling on corpses, no sexual assault or child murders," she tells BBC Culture. "But in recent years, it's often used pejoratively to mean 'a bit twee'. It conjures sunlit Cotswold villages and bumbling policemen, stock characters and easy solutions." But isn't that the bread and butter – served with a nice cup of tea on the vicarage lawn – of cosy crime? "I don't think most 'cosy crime' novels fit that cliché," says Everett. She points to Endeavour – the TV series that serves as a prequel to the long-running and critically-acclaimed Inspector Morse, which starred John Thaw. "I find it deeply cosy, because it's set in the 60s in Oxford and is a wonderfully enjoyable watch, but it certainly isn't twee. It's full of beautifully realised characters, tricky plots, and they actually do risk gritty storylines amongst the dreaming spires. "Often 'cosy' simply means we care about the characters, and we know it will be resolved by the end of the episode, or novel. My own favourites in the genre are The ABC Murders and The Mirror Crack'd, by Agatha Christie."In short, yes, I am a fan of the genre – partly because it's much broader than people often assume." On screen as well on the page, cosy crime has been a staple of our cultural consumption long before we used the term. Go back to the 1980s and think of Angela Lansbury's author-turned-sleuth Jessica Fletcher in the phenomenally successful Murder She Wrote; the US TV series was perhaps the epitome of cosy crime, and indeed shows that the US stole something of a march in presenting contemporary shows that deliberately harked back to the Agatha Christie mould of storytelling. More recently, British series such as Midsomer Murders, a procedural set within country villages where increasingly outlandish murders (burned alive in a wicker man? Drowned in a bowl of jellied eels? Death by numerous medieval weapons?) and Death in Paradise, set on the idyllic Caribbean island of Saint-Marie, have been quintessential cosy crime hits.  Murder She Wrote, featuring Angela Lansbury as an author-turned-detective, brought cosy crime to a mass US audience in the 1980s (Credit: Alamy)Look at the schedules on broadcasters such as PBS Masterpiece and especially Acorn TV, which packages up a lot of British content for US audiences, and they’re stuffed with more and more shows of this type – the upcoming Marlow Murder Club, from Death in Paradise creator Robert Thorogood; Death in Paradise sequel Beyond Paradise; Magpie Murders; Whitstable Pearl; Grantchester and The Madame Blanc Mysteries, to name but a few. "In America, 'cozy' crime is a huge thing," says Osman, nodding to the divergent American and UK spellings of the word. "And around the world I think people love British humour and warmth. And also British murder of course." The cosy crime dissenters Everybody, it seems, loves cosy crime. Well, maybe not quite everybody. Last year, journalist and writer James Greig wrote a scathing piece about Osman's novels for the website Gawker headlined "The Thursday Murder Club Books Are Criminally Bad". Yet he insists to BBC Culture that "I don’t dislike cosy crime per se – I like Janice Hallett’s novels, for example.” Hallett is a British journalist and author whose debut novel The Appeal was the UK's second bestselling fiction debut of 2021, and won the 2022 Crime Writers' Association New Blood Dagger award. Her novels' covers share a look with Osman's – lots of large, slightly archaic typography in primary colours and small, often pastoral illustrations. Why does Greig like those and not, say, Osman's?"I guess the problem is if you actively strive for 'cosiness' the effect is usually very twee and insipid," he says. "I think a lot of these writers are trying to emulate Christie without understanding what makes her good: obviously yes, there is an element of cosiness to the settings of her novels, no doubt enhanced by the passing of time, but there is also pain, loss, malice, dread and evil etc in her work, and the satirical elements are often quite acerbic – I just don't get that with Osman etc at all, and I don't find crime fiction with all the edges smoothed over very compelling. "So as I see it, the shift from domestic noir to cosy crime is the biggest downgrade in the history of commercial fiction," he concludes. By "domestic noir", Greig is referring to another sub-genre of crime that has flourished in recent years but has actually been around for much longer, even if it didn't have a name. Often female-led (both in character and author terms), it concentrates on seemingly normal household settings with tensions bubbling under the surface, often giving way to psychological drama. Bestselling examples include Gillian Flynn's Gone Girl and Paula Hawkins' The Girl on the Train.The onrunning Midsomer Murders is among an ever-increasing range of British cosy crime TV series (Credit: Alamy)However, while some readers might have preferred that crime novel fad, there's no sign of cosy crime's popularity flagging in the near future – and there are certainly plenty of cosy crime authors only just getting started. "I feel a strong affinity with this genre now, as I don't particularly want to write 'gritty' crime," says Everett. "I love being able to add little jokes, and historical detail, and I've no interest in grim pathologist detail – I'm focused on the characters and the mystery they need to solve. Why cosy crime connects "Cosy crime, at heart, celebrates the best of people alongside the worst – bravery, decency, doggedness alongside the darkness – and I suspect that deep down, I'm an optimist who fundamentally believes that people are usually good," she continues. "I don't want to write about serial killers and trauma, it depresses me. I have to spend months with these imaginary people, so it helps if I like them and enjoy their company. Everett feels that cosy crime speaks to our need for resolution and neat endings in an often messy, unfocused world, and the longing to trust people to ultimately do the right thing. In a lot of other contemporary crime fiction, by comparison, the good guys don't necessarily win – in fact, it's often hard to tell, especially in morally ambiguous psychological thrillers and even police procedurals, who the good guys even are. "I don't find that need twee at all – I find it vital," says Everett. "Particularly at the moment, when it's so hard to trust politicians, the police, the press – it's natural that we'd turn to a fictional world to see order restored and give us some reassurance that crimes get solved, bad people repent or are punished and good people are rewarded." For Osman, genre classifications are redundant anyway. "No one should ever write in a 'genre'," he says. "Just write what you'd love to read. Entertain and surprise people. That's what Christie did, and that's why we're still talking about her 100 years later." The Last Devil to Die by Richard Osman is published by Pamela Dorman Books in the US and Viking in the UK If you liked this story, sign up for the weekly features newsletter, called The Essential List. A handpicked selection of stories from BBC Future, Culture, Worklife and Travel, delivered to your inbox every Friday. If you would like to comment on this story or anything else you have seen on BBC Culture, head over to our Facebook page or message us on Twitter.

The dress that shocked the world

When Lady Gaga appeared at the 2010 MTV VMAs clad in flank steak, she managed to outdo even herself. Clare Thorp talks to the woman who inspired the look, with an earlier outfit of bacon boots and chipolata hairpieces.It takes some effort to upstage Cher at an awards show. This is the woman whose Oscar outfits alone have included towering feather headpieces, sequinned bralettes, floral bikinis and nearly naked dresses. But when the singer – wearing a sheer, sequinned bodystocking – presented the award for best video at the 2010 MTV Video Music Awards, even she looked a little taken aback as Lady Gaga took to the stage wearing a dress made entirely of cuts of meat. More like this: - From fetish to fashion: The rise of latex - 'I made Lady Gaga's meat dress' - Why sequins are so exhilarating to wear Slashed to the thigh, and featuring a cowl neck, the dress came with matching beefy boots, hat and meat clutch. "I never thought I'd be asking Cher to hold my meat purse," said Gaga as she picked up her award for the Bad Romance video – perhaps unaware that Cher doesn't eat meat.Lady Gaga managed to upstage even Cher when she wore the 'meat dress' (Credit: Getty Images)It was one of three outfits Gaga wore that night. She'd already walked the red carpet wearing a custom-made Alexander McQueen gown with a Renaissance-inspired print, 12in Armadillo shoes and a gold feather headpiece. She collected her best pop video award wearing a voluminous black leather Armani dress. However, her meat dress was not only the most memorable outfit of that evening, but arguably of her entire career – some feat when you consider this is the woman who arrived at the 2011 Grammys in an egg.Lady Gaga said that she'd spent three days inside the egg-shaped 'vessel' designed by Hussein Chalayan before climbing out of it (Credit: Alamy)By the time she appeared at that year's VMAs – where she was nominated for 13 awards – people were well used to Gaga's outrageous outfits.  The year before she'd taken to the stage to perform soaked in blood. She'd met the Queen while wearing a red latex ballgown and appeared on a German TV show in a coat made entirely from Kermit the Frogs. But she was about to up the ante.When meeting Queen Elizabeth II at the annual Royal Variety Performance in 2009, Lady Gaga donned a floor-length red latex Atsuko Kudo dress (Credit: Getty Images)The idea was originally sparked by a conversation Gaga had with make-up artist Val Garland, who had worn her own version of a meat dress back in the 1980s. "Before I was a make-up artist, I was a hairdresser, and I used to live in Australia," Garland tells BBC Culture. "The clubs in Australia then were amazing. It was all about being individual, pushing the boundaries and getting noticed. I was going to this daytime party and I thought, what can I wear that nobody's ever seen before?"She settled on an outfit constructed from meat and leather. "In my head I thought I was going to be like some kind of warrior. I flattened steaks and made a sort of bra bikini top, and then I cooked bacon and made that into some kind of boot." For her hair, Garland used pork chipolatas to resemble braids. "I thought, why not? I went off to this party but wasn't there for very long because, you know, I was very fresh, and the flies loved it."Make-up artist Val Garland wore her own version of a meat dress in the 1980s (Credit: Getty Images)Many years later, she found herself working with Gaga. "It was just before her Born This Way album and we were swapping stories, and she asked me: 'what's the most outrageous outfit you've worn?' So I told her and she said 'do you mind if I develop that idea?' I said 'be my guest'. She always wanted to do something different." Haus of Gaga – the singer's creative team – came up with a concept and asked designer Franc Fernandez to create it. Speaking on a recent episode of BBC podcast Witness History, he recalled the process. "I'm Argentinean so most of our dishes are essentially just red meat, so we have a very close relationship with butchers. So literally I went to my family butcher, told them I was going to sew meat as if it was fabric, and they were 'oh, then you want to use this cut, that cut'… it was very straightforward." He found the process challenging – but surprisingly enjoyable. "It feels wrong, so it's fun to do… it's got like a horror-movie energy to it."Lady Gaga intended the meat dress to be a protest against the US military's 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell' policy (Credit: Getty Images)Talking to Vogue about the dress in 2021, Gaga recalled: "It smelled like meat. It was thrilling to wear. There's a corset under [it] but the corset was sewn to the meat. So this is actually a garment. They didn't just drape meat over me and cross their fingers." It wasn't the first time Gaga had worn an outfit made of meat. A week earlier, she'd appeared on the cover of Vogue Hommes Japan wearing a meat bikini. But at the MTV awards she had an audience of millions. "There's this great image of the [studio] audience while she's onstage accepting that award and everyone's just got this very confused face," says Fernandez.Garland wasn't with her on the night, but saw the pictures online. "I thought it was fabulous," she remembers. "It's all about being noticed. It's all about, 'did I make you think? Have I left a lasting impression?' And I guess there's that shock factor as well, which is, whether people like it or not, they're all going to be talking about it." They certainly were. Francesca Granata, associate professor of Fashion Studies at the Parsons School of Design, and author of Experimental Fashion: Performance Art, Carnival and the Grotesque Body, says the combination of raw meat on bare skin was what was most shocking to people. "It is the ultimate abjection," says Granata. "It troubles the inside versus outside of the body, literally having flesh on the outside of the body. It reminds people of their own mortality. I don't think any of her other looks were so explicitly disturbing." Granata says the dress can also be read as a critique of the objectification of women, "particularly the way female pop stars have been read as sex objects. With Lady Gaga's meat dress, the expression 'a piece of meat' is turned on its head." Some were angry. Animals rights charities condemned the dress, with Peta calling it "offensive" and saying "there are more people who are upset by butchery than who are impressed by it." In a post-show interview with Ellen DeGeneres, Gaga said no offence was intended, and explained that the dress was a statement protesting the US military's "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy – which prevented service people from disclosing their sexual identity. "For me this evening it's [saying], 'If we don't stand up for what we believe in, if we don't fight for our rights, pretty soon we're going to have as much rights as the meat on our bones'." A week later, she appeared at a rally calling for the repeal of the policy and gave an address entitled "The Prime rib of America". The law was formally repealed three months later.Lady Gaga said that when she wore the Marc Jacobs suit at a 2018 awards ceremony, 'I felt the truth of who I am well up in my gut' (Credit: Getty Images)In the years that followed, Gaga continued to use fashion as a mode of activism. At the 2018 Elle Women in Hollywood Awards, she wore an oversized suit. In a speech referencing her own sexual assault, she explained that choosing the outfit over dresses was a way to "take the power back… today I wear the pants." Gaga certainly wasn't the first to use fashion as protest – but she did embrace it at a time when the red carpet had become a place of few risks. Post Bjork's 2001 swan dress, A-listers had been playing it safe for fear of attracting negative attention. But post Gaga's meat moment, activism has slowly crept back on to the red carpet, albeit in not quite such a dramatic fashion. When the Cannes Film Festival said heels were mandatory for women, some actresses turned up barefoot. The 2017 #metoo movement resulted in several red carpet protests against sexual assault in the industry – from wearing suits to all-black dress codes. There have also been statements on sustainability, equal pay, climate change and Russia's invasion of Ukraine.As well as being covered with Swarovski crystals for Schiaparelli's 2023 show, Doja Cat has sported gold body paint and chicken feet boots on the red carpet (Credit: Getty Images)Gaga didn't just help revive protest on the red carpet, but performance art too. Recently, Doja Cat has taken up the mantle, with outfits including being painted head-to-toe in red and covered in 30,000 Swarovski crystals, and dressing as Karl Lagerfeld's cat, Choupette. No one does it quite like Gaga, though. At the 2019 Met Gala – where the theme was "Camp: Notes on Fashion" – she asked Anna Wintour for an unprecedented 20-minute slot on the red (or rather, pink) carpet to transition through several costume changes in a performance that she had rehearsed for three weeks. As for the meat dress – a taxidermist used bleach, formaldehyde and detergent to preserve the dress, and it now lives in Cleveland's Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. "It's got a very weird, gross texture," says Fernandez. "It's definitely a little greyer." If you liked this story, sign up for the weekly features newsletter, called The Essential List. A handpicked selection of stories from BBC Future, Culture, Worklife and Travel, delivered to your inbox every Friday. If you would like to comment on this story or anything else you have seen on BBC Culture, head over to our Facebook page or message us on Twitter.

Nana Benz: Musical trio blend electro with voodoo incantations

Back to homepage / Shows / arts24 Issued on: 21/09/2023 - 16:15 11:14 arts24 © FRANCE 24 Arts24 meets with Togolese musical trio Nana Benz, who are pioneers of digital voodoo: a mix of voodoo incantations and electro. They opened this year's La Villette Jazz Festival and have been touring Europe all summer. The band is driven by a strong feminist identity and is committed to protecting the environment. Advertising Also, 32 years after the death of French singer-songwriter Serge Gainsbourg, his house opens to the public in central Paris as a museum and homage to his long career. We take a closer look. Read more on related topics: Previous shows

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The show that changed sex on TV forever

As the fourth and final season of the ground-breaking Netflix show begins, Nick Levine explores how Sex Education changed the script for sex, both on and off the screen.Since it premiered in January 2019, Sex Education has comfortably lived up to its title. The ground-breaking comedy-drama series created by Laurie Nunn, which returns to Netflix for its fourth and final season on 21 September, not only changed the way sex is depicted and discussed on screen, it helped to overhaul how sex scenes are filmed by becoming one of the first major productions to hire a dedicated intimacy co-ordinator. More like this:-       11 best TV shows to watch in September-       How Suits became TV's most popular show-       The overlooked 1973 Star Trek series "The show's producers Jamie Campbell and Ben Taylor brought me in because they knew they had a duty of care to their young cast," says Ita O'Brien, who helped to pioneer this movement-based role on Sex Education and another British TV series that debuted in 2019, BBC One and HBO's Gentleman Jack.O'Brien had mainly worked as a movement director in theatre before Sex Education, but says the show has "absolutely" changed her career trajectory. She has since worked as an intimacy co-ordinator on other zeitgeist-grabbing series including Normal People, I May Destroy You and It's a Sin, and is now training a new generation of intimacy co-ordinators to meet growing demand. O'Brien says the industry "turned on a dime" when the Harvey Weinstein sexual abuse scandal broke in 2017, highlighting the potentially vulnerable position of younger actresses, particularly on male-dominated sets."There were suddenly all these conversations about best practice and codes of conduct for intimate scenes, and a greater awareness of the need to work with respect," O'Brien tells BBC Culture. Though actor Sean Bean opined in 2022 that intimacy co-ordination can "spoil the spontaneity" of a sex scene, his viewpoint runs counter to the industry trend. "If a production has intimate content, [producers] will look for an intimacy practitioner now, but there's currently a void of people who are fully qualified to do it," O’Brien adds.Sex Education, starring Emma Mackey as Maeve and Asa Butterfield as Otis, premiered in January 2019 (Credit: Netflix)When O'Brien was hired by Sex Education in 2018, the role was more obscure. "But I never felt any kind of pushback from anyone on the show because they knew [intimacy co-ordination] was really needed," O'Brien says. "Right from the start, Sex Education didn't pull any punches. It was dealing with some really full-on issues head on, but also with plenty of humour." She and any actors filming an intimate scene that day would precisely choreograph their body movements "first thing in the morning", thereby removing any potential anxiety. "That way, they could focus on characterisation and storytelling when it came to filming," O'Brien explains. Her role was essentially to ensure that the show's talented young cast – which included new Doctor Who star Ncuti Gatwa and Aimee Lou Wood, who won a Bafta award for her performance as Aimee – "knew exactly what they were doing and felt completely at ease".Combined with the forward-thinking, sex-positive scripts written by Nunn and the show's writing team, this rigorous approach to intimate scenes has really paid off. "No show since has come close to matching Sex Education's unique combination of fearless, candid and authentic sex on screen," entertainment journalist David Opie tells BBC Culture. Everything from anxiety surrounding masturbation to vaginismus – a condition causing a person's vaginal muscles to tighten involuntarily when penetration is attempted – have been explored sensitively and with a deft sense of humour. Though the new season storylines are being kept tightly under wraps ahead of its premiere, it seems safe to presume that Sex Education will continue to push the envelope. Opie notes that other teen-oriented series including HBO's dark addiction drama Euphoria can be "equally explicit", but says "they're often missing the heart that Sex Education brings to the bedroom every time". A ground-breaking approach Empathy and warmth have been baked in from the start – as has a pronounced nostalgic quality. Though Sex Education is set in the present day at Moordale, a fictional British secondary school, the show has a retro US aesthetic conceived as an "homage" to the iconic 1980s teen movies of director John Hughes. Characters wear varsity-style bomber jackets and share confidences while leaning against high school lockers – just like Molly Ringwald in Hughes films like 1984’s Sixteen Candles. "The pitch of the show is so heightened," creator Laurie Nunn told The Guardian in 2020. "It's about this kid [Asa Butterfield's character Otis] who gives out sex advice in the toilet cubicle. It needed a really heightened world to match it."Sex Education was one of the first productions to hire an intimacy coordinator, who worked with the show's talented young cast, including Ncuti Gatwa as Eric (Credit: Netflix)The overall vibe may be heightened – Gillian Anderson relishes her role as Otis's mother Jean, a disarmingly frank sex therapist – but culture writer Lucy Ford salutes the show for placing "less of a gloss on sex" than many equivalent series. "For its audience of young people, I can imagine this makes the prospect of sex – whether they're having it or not – much less intimidating," she tells BBC Culture. In a way, the show's nostalgic veil creates a kind of visual comfort blanket that allows the writers to confront challenging and taboo aspects of sexual intimacy.Gillian Anderson plays Otis's mother, the disarmingly frank sex therapist Jean (Credit: Netflix)Superfan Sam Thomas, who is working on a book series inspired by the show's sex-positive approach, says Moordale is the "inclusive fictional high school" he wishes he had seen on screen as a teenager. At Moordale, all pupils are given space to find their place on the sexuality spectrum – whether they are gay, straight, bisexual or something else entirely. In season two, Ola (Patricia Allison) embraces being pansexual, while Florence (Mirren Mack) gradually realises that her lack of sexual desire means she is asexual.When Thomas was growing up in the UK in the late 1990s, a controversial piece of legislation called Section 28 – which has since been repealed – prohibited teachers from "promoting" same-sex relationships in schools. "I was homophobically bullied every day and my teachers were unable to do anything about it," he recalls. "My own memories of sex education were condoms being blown up into balloons and thrown around the class while our teacher looked flustered trying to explain the birds and the bees." When he watched Nunn's show nearly two decades later, Thomas realised "everything [he] had missed out on" during his own paltry sex education classes. Thankfully, lessons are more progressive these days, but O'Brien says people still tell her the show serves as "part of their own sex education". "We know that teenagers turn to pornography online as a place to learn [about sex], but Sex Education offers an alternative," she adds. 'Funny and heartfelt' Sex Education set out its stall in its very first episode by showing Adam (Connor Swindells) dealing with anorgasmia, a form of sexual dysfunction in which a person cannot climax, and Otis grappling with an inability to masturbate. The first episode of season two brought Otis's storyline full circle by opening with a bracing two-and-a-half minute masturbation montage that shows him pleasuring himself in several different locations. O'Brien also helped actress Aimee Lou Wood to co-ordinate a candid masturbation scene that really resonated with viewers. "She told me the after the scene aired, she was getting hundreds of messages a day from people saying how important they found it," O'Brien says.Sex Education carved out a reputation for featuring aspects of sex and sexuality that other shows neither thought nor dared to cover (Credit: Netflix)When she worked on the season two storyline in which Lily (Tanya Reynolds) deals with vaginismus – a condition rarely spoken about, let alone portrayed on screen – the show's "detail-oriented approach" came into its own. "Everyone involved was committed to making it as authentic as possible," O'Brien says, which meant she was given "time and budget" to research the full range of vagina dilators available on the market. For this reason, O'Brien believes "viewers with vaginismus were able to watch those scenes and think, 'I feel seen'." Sex Education has carved out a reputation for exploring facets of sexuality that other shows would neither think nor dare to. "One scene that really sticks out comes in season three when Eric and Adam try to have sex for the first time, only to realise that they're both bottoms," Opie says. For him, this moment was not just "funny and heartfelt", but also "ground-breaking" because it is "rare to see the mechanics of gay sex play out so poignantly in a teen setting". Opie also believes that Sex Education has made great strides by approaching more familiar storylines in an uncommonly nuanced way. He cites the fallout from a sexual assault that Aimee experiences in season two as an especially powerful example. "In most shows, [it] would have been covered in one or two episodes max, but in Sex Education, Aimee's trauma doesn't magically go away when the credits roll," he says. Ford also hails the way this storyline "portrays the slow-burn of trauma" in a heartbreakingly realistic way. "At first Aimee laughs off what happened to her, but it slowly starts to eat away at her confidence and she feels embarrassed to talk about how much it is affecting her," Ford notes, calling the overall effect "gut-punching".The show's portrayal of sexual assault experienced by Aimee (Aimee Lou Wood) in season two has been widely praised (Credit: Netflix)With Sex Education's final season about to premiere, Ford says it is still too soon to say whether its impact on how sex is portrayed on screen has been "cataclysmic". However, she believes the show has definitely changed the way that teenage sexuality in particular is depicted because it tackled "things like virginity and awkward fumbles" with a refreshing lack of shame. O'Brien believes the show has already helped to "normalise" sex on screen by paving the way for more relatable and mundane moments "where someone kisses you with morning breath or farts in bed". However Sex Education's legacy develops in the coming years, there is no doubt that it has meant a tremendous amount to viewers who may have learned something about their own sexuality from watching it. The final season of Sex Education is available on Netflix from 21 September. If you liked this story, sign up for the weekly features newsletter, called The Essential List. A handpicked selection of stories from BBC Future, Culture, Worklife and Travel, delivered to your inbox every Friday. If you would like to comment on this story or anything else you have seen on BBC Culture, head over to our Facebook page or message us on Twitter.

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