Sex Education’s iconic duo, Otis and Eric, is exactly the kind of TV teenage friendship that we need more of.
Teen shows on TV are filled with friendships, but few friendships between boys can claim to be as strong or as healthy as the one between Otis and Eric in Sex Education.
At first glance, Otis and Eric may seem like polar opposites. As the amazing Ncuti Gatwa, who plays Eric, pointed out in an interview:
“They’re so different, but they complement each other so well. They bring the best and worst out in each other but in a really good way. And they just love each other! They’ve been friends for years and they just get each other. I think it’s so special to have like – you’ve got a gay black kid and you’ve got a straight, white, awkward kid, but they’re just tight and they’re just bros and it’s really sweet.”
In a world where most gay characters on TV solely exist to be the fun sidekick to straight girls, and straight white boys tend to interact only with people like them, Otis and Eric share a unique bond, which is only made stronger by the power of their story.
While the show introduces them to us as an already-established friendship, they still have plenty of room to grow. They even grow apart for a time in season 1, when Otis starts to take Eric for granted and Eric goes on a personal journey of his own. But through it all, Otis is never embarrassed by Eric’s loud and colorful personality (and outfits) — in fact, sometimes he’ll join him –, and Eric never puts Otis down the way other kids in the school do.
Their problems are normal friendship problems: insecurity about losing friendship, differing views on who they should be in relationships with, and figuring out priorities. It’s what makes their friendship so relatable.
Otis and Eric are openly affectionate. Between them, they have no unhealthy ideas of masculinity or tendencies to hide their feelings to be ‘more masculine’, the way so many ‘bros’ do on screen and in real life. Hugging, jumping on each other, and saying heartfelt things to each other is the norm.
In season 2, the story revolves less around Otis and Eric’s friendship struggles and more on the other aspects of each one’s lives, but they’re a constant source of support for each other. Eric listens to all of Otis’ problems with Ola and offers advice (and more than a little friendly teasing), and Otis encourages Eric in his blossoming relationship with Rahim.
But they also hold each other accountable. After everything that happened in season 1, Otis and Eric are getting a little better at having conversations about the steps they need to take to make their lives better. When Eric finally tells Otis about him and Adam, Otis confronts him about being self-destructive by sustaining a relationship with a bully, telling him that he deserves better than to be with someone who’s ashamed of him. It doesn’t go down well at first, but Eric eventually realizes that Otis is right, and has a serious conversation with Adam.
And when Otis makes bad decisions in his relationships with both Ola and Maeve, Eric is there to at least try to make things better, inviting Maeve over and encouraging Otis in his attempts to be a little more sociable.
More importantly, the two are always there to celebrate each other’s achievements. Whether it’s Eric loudly cheering Otis’ (drunken) first time, or Otis’ steady support at the Romeo and Juliet musical where Eric is playing the French horn, the two are always there for each other’s moments, big or small.
We need to see more friendships like this one — friendships between boys who love each other not despite their differences, but because of them; who aren’t afraid of showing their affection for each other and celebrating each other’s achievements; who encourage each other but also expect the best from each other — helping each other on their journeys to become better people.
Sex Education has set a high standard for teen shows in the way it addresses sexuality, social issues and romance… but its quietest yet greatest victory is the friendship it has built between Otis and Eric.