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Stream It Or Skip It: ‘Absolute Beginners’ On Netflix, About Best Friends Exploring Their Sexuality As They Make A Steamy Student Film

Coming-of-age shows tend to revolve around sex, but around sex are usually stories about teens who are trying to figure themselves out. In a new Polish teen drama, we’ve got two teens who aren’t quite sure what they want, but one who does and has trouble expressing it.


Opening Shot: A rocky shoreline at dusk. A woman who’s yelping climbs down a rocky hill, a man going after her. They both spot a third person struggling in the water.

The Gist: Lena (Martyna Byczkowska) and Niko (Bartłomiej Deklewa) have been best friends for years, and they’ve spent the summer making a student film to submit to a film school they want to attend. With the help of Niko’s father Pawełek (Andrzej Konopka), they do a lot of by-the-seat-of-their pants shoots, like a romantic scene shot on a real departing train, without a permit, then speeding to the next stop so Niko can get on the train to shoot a different scene.

Their families are also close; they share a cabin near the beach, where they all gather after the train scenes are shot. Lena’s mother Tamara (Kasia Warnke) and stepfather Dawid (Piotr Witkowski) are planning to move to Milan to start a new business, but Niko’s mother Bogusia (Anna Krotoska) is concerned that the change will be too much for Lena, who is on the autism spectrum, especially if she doesn’t get into film school like she and Niko are counting on.

Lena is intent on filming a realistic love scene with Niko, to the point where she has storyboarded out every explicit move. He’s not sure such detail is needed, but it does seem that Lena’s reasons for making such a scene so explicit go way beyond just the movie they’re making.

In the meantime, Igor (Jan Sałasiński) is in summer training camp for the local high school basketball team. He’s the team’s captain, but he’s questioning his coach’s faith in him and doesn’t seem to want to set the example his coach wants him to set. He’d rather bum around the beach with the guys and have some casual sex with Malwina (Paulina Krzyżańska), who is also a friend of Niko’s.

In trying to shoot a cliffside scene, Igor, his buddies and Malwina interrupt the scene; Malwina wonders to Niko why he hasn’t gone for it with Lena, when it’s pretty obvious the two are attracted to each other.

Lena makes an attempt to “rehearse” the scene with Niko, but he just thinks the whole thing is a bad idea, because he doesn’t want things to change between them. “But what if it gets better?” she asks. When he turns down her advances, she sobs in Niko’s mother’s arms. Then, when she finds out that her parents want to sell their half of the cabin to fund their new business, the amount of change becomes overwhelming. She runs off, yelping and shaking her hands, with her mom yelling at her not to behave like that.

Igor, feeling misunderstood, tries to open up to Malwina, but she just wants to have sexy fun times with him. So he goes out for a swim; as he gets in trouble in the water, Niko and Lena manage to save his life; she also happens to film the scene, just in case they need it.

Absolute Beginners
Photo: Netflix

What Shows Will It Remind You Of? Absolute Beginners has a lot of similar elements to the Freeform series Everything’s Gonna Be Okay.

Our Take: It certainly feels like the first episode of Absolute Beginners is setting up a much more complicated story than it seems like on the surface. At first, things seem to be going at a leisurely pace; Lena very obviously wants to take her friendship with Niko to another level, but has problems expressing that to him. For his part, Niko has complex feelings towards Lena, and not all of them have to do with his fear that their friendship will change.

At first, we’re not even sure why we’re following Igor’s story. He seems like a pretty typical jock type, but then we realize that he’s chafing under the idea that his life revolves around basketball. We’re interested in seeing how things change between Lena, Niko and Igor now that they’ve shared this experience, and what Igor’s feelings are going to be towards them now that they saved his life.

Their first interactions were pretty predictable, with Igor and his buddies making fun of Niko and Lena for filming a costume drama while they’re drinking on the beach. But the near-drowning is going to transform things among the trio, especially as Lena tries to integrate Igor into her film, including pushing forward with the sex scene she insists on having in the film.

There are other dynamics going on; Niko’s parents are having issues, albeit subtle ones. And it seems that Lena’s mother Tamara has had a hard time understanding her daughter over the years; she seems to be a free spirit, and Lena is anything but. But Lena’s autism has, unfortunately, likely been a source of frustration for Tamara, as we see when she screams at her daughter not to wave her hands. Are we going to see more of this dynamic at play? As tough as it is to watch, we hope it’s explored more.

Sex and Skin: Lena’s storyboards for the sex scene are pretty graphic, and she goes topless during her “rehearsal” with Niko.

Parting Shot: Niko embraces Igor after he and Lena revive him, and Lena films it.

Sleeper Star: We’re curious to see what role Malwina, played by Paulina Krzyżańska, plays during this summer, when Lena, Niko and Igor explore their feelings for each other.

Most Pilot-y Line: If you’re not paying enough attention, it’s sometimes hard to figure out which set of parents go with which teen. Maybe that’s by design, to show just how close these families are with each other. But it made things cloudy in our minds until about midway through the first episode.

Our Call: STREAM IT. With some interesting lead performances, and a plot that goes beyond the standard teen coming-of-age stuff, Absolute Beginners sets up an intriguing story about teens who either aren’t sure about what they want or are sure but have trouble expressing it.

Joel Keller (@joelkeller) writes about food, entertainment, parenting and tech, but he doesn’t kid himself: he’s a TV junkie. His writing has appeared in the New York Times, Slate, Salon,,, Fast Company and elsewhere.