From The Wire to Game of Thrones, HBO is well-known for its gripping dramas. When I first heard that the network was creating a “teen drama,” I was skeptical. After binge-watching the first season of Euphoria, I can assure that it’s not your typical melodramatic CW teen drama (I’m looking at you, Riverdale). Euphoria centers on a group of teenagers navigating high school, parties, and family while addressing topics including addiction, sexuality, and abortion. The show’s creator, Sam Levinson, shaped rich characters with complex storylines that portray difficult issues in a raw manner. You can stream the first season of Euphoria on HBO now.
Reminiscent Of Skins
Euphoria instantly reminded me of Skins, a British series which aired on E4 and is currently on Netflix. Skins addressed issues in a manner that didn’t feel like it was talking down to its younger audience. It presented realistic scenarios without trying to wrap each episode with a pretty bow at the end a la Full House (no shade to Full House – there’s a time and place to enjoy cheesy 90s sitcoms). If you loved Skins, you’ll love Euphoria.
Similar to Skins, each individual episode focuses on a different character. Casting recruited established and new talent to create a stellar and dynamic ensemble cast. At the helm of the show is Zendaya, playing Rue Bennett, a drug addict fresh out of rehab with no intention of staying clean. Some familiar talent includes Storm Reid (A Wrinkle in Time), Maude Apatow (This Is 40), Alexa Demie (mid-90s), and Eric Dane (Grey’s Anatomy). Newcomers Hunter Schafer, Barbie Ferreria, and Jacob Elordi were compelling in their respective roles.
Portraying Difficult Subject Matter
Sam Levinson—the creator, director, and writer of Euphoria—struggled with drug addiction in his early life, which inspired Rue’s storyline. Zendaya posted an Instagram video of Levinson saying the following:
“I spent the majority of my teenage years in and out of hospitals, rehabs, and halfway houses. I was a drug addict…I’d take anything and everything until I couldn’t hear, or breathe, or feel. I wanted to do whatever I could to escape myself, my body, my brain, the relentless anxiety, the inescapable depression that plagued me from a very early age and no matter how far I ran or how much I tried to…Drugs weren’t the answer, but in all sincerity, they were the best solution that I had and sometime around the age of 16, I resigned myself to the idea that eventually drugs would kill me and there was no reason to fight it…I made peace with that…”
Zendaya mentioned in interviews that she draws inspiration for Rue’s character by having open and candid conversations with Sam. It’s important to recognize Levinson’s strength in sharing his truth through Rue’s character.
In the pilot episode (SPOILER WARNING), there’s a flashback scene where Gia (Rue’s sister) discovers Rue overdosed. We’re shown Rue’s body lying unconscious with vomit all over her mouth.
There’s controversy that Euphoria is too graphic for audiences, and don’t get me wrong, it’s graphic. However, that uneasiness is the point. Euphoria got slack from parents because it seemingly encourages drug use. Levinson delves into the highs (no pun intended) and lows of drug use.
Cinematography And The Use Of Color
Euphoria is simply a visual treat. Euphoria plays with color in a way that enhances emotion and intensifies moments of disarray, helplessness, and ecstasy. If not for the storylines, I recommend watching the show for its use of color and cinematography alone.