Euphoria Is Entirely Too Much, and That’s the Very Best Part
BY SARAH JOHN
Euphoria, an HBO show created by Sam Levinson and produced in partnership with A24, is a story about teenagers navigating sex, drugs, and relationships. For the record, when I say sex, drugs, and relationships, I mean a lot, a literally incalculable amount, of sex, drugs, and relationships. The shocking show, which features Drake as an executive producer, is based on an Israeli show with the same name, and has already made quite an impression on American audiences with its debut.
Since its release on June 16, 2019, Euphoria has done everything from garner praise for its cinematography — with clips of its whirling, fantastical visuals going viral on Twitter — to stoking controversy for pushing boundaries (particularly for one locker room scene that depicted what was, truly, a shockingly high number of penises).
In the four episodes released so far, Euphoria mainly follows a charming, recovering addict Rue Bennett (Zendaya Coleman); shy girl turned cam girl Kat Hernandez (Barbie Ferreira); kind-hearted toxic-relationship addict Jules Vaughn (Hunter Schafer); and ridiculously angry, masculine jock Nate Jacobs (Jacob Elordi).
So far, Euphoria has shown the many elements of the tragic backstories of these characters. There has been a child being forcibly restrained in a mental hospital, a vomit-soaked Rue being treated for drug overdose, a number of near-rapes and statutory rapes, and a brutal beating. At this point, you might be thinking that this all sounds like it is a bit too much. The answer is that this show is definitely too much, and that is exactly why it’s such a gut-wrenching and powerful watch.
But while it isn’t a show to relax to or watch at a party with friends — and definitely is not a show teens can watch with their parents — it is a show one might gravitate towards when feeling deeply misunderstood or vulnerable
Part of this show’s persistent, aggressive heaviness is because Levinson has infused Euphoria with his own personal knowledge of being a drug-addicted teen — as seen in the scenes of Rue asking friends to pee in cups so as to fake drug test results, or her snorting Xanax in high school bathrooms. Many of Rue’s scenes struggling with addiction, or scenes of Jules experiencing statutory rape by much older men, are genuinely heartbreaking and bleak. They are done incredibly well, showcasing the intimacy, isolation, regret, and earnestness of reckless teenage years through nuanced acting, believable dialogue, and ambitious editing.
Euphoria refuses to shy away from the ugly moments of life by showing the full reality of life’s hardships and the fact that they can affect anyone. This makes Euphoria both extremely difficult, and oddly therapeutic, to watch. Viewers witness the suffering on the show, but also feel that the show depicts all this hopelessness for the sole purpose of showing that change is possible.
Levinson strives to humanize all the teens coping with more serious and stigmatized issues on his show— which, of course, all of them are. But the show also benefits from focusing heavily on the teen issues that are universal to the social culture of 2019. Euphoria loves discussing about dating apps, body shaming, mental health, social media, and cyberbullying. For example, Rue asks the audience to refrain from judging a character for her leaked nudes, noting through a voiceover how her generation lives in the era of the Internet and sexting, not dates and old-style romance. It seems like a joke, or a forgettable comment. In reality, it’s a firm critique of the condescension with which society views the woes of young adulthood.
But all this heaviness is also, luckily, balanced with some moments of levity. In a trend that is one of my favorite parts of the show, the daydreams of the characters are usually acted out in full scenes. In one scene, Rue’s memories with her family play for us, home-video style, to jubilant soul music. In another, a shy, reserved Kat imagines herself as Khaleesi, and suddenly the high school cafeteria is transformed into a remarkably well-staged scene referencing Game of Thrones. All of these scenes are beautifully edited and stylized.
Because of this, the line between fantasy and reality is often blurred in the show, and Euphoria’s cinematography creates moods that are acutely felt by the audience. This is one of the best aspects of Euphoria, as the show portrays drug hazes through scenes of shifting walls, or the camera pans and zooms its way through the horrors of a high school hallway. The camera work in Euphoria is an experience all of its own, and a really, really fun one at that.
While one might be tempted to see Euphoria as solely melodramatic or obsessed with shock-value, it holds much more cultural relevance than that. It contains some of the most difficult-to-watch and honest portrayals of dysfunctional sexual relationships, addiction, and slut-shaming in the modern-age. While, yes, it all is shockingly graphic, Euphoria manages to also be charming, sweet, and overall, ridiculously visually beautiful, balancing out its subject matter and distancing it from another teen drama like 13 Reasons Why.
Additionally, it must be said that its lack of realism is actually the exact factor that makes it such an accurate portrayal of what being a teenager feels like in the moment — excessive, inescapable, and disorienting. Because of this, many teens will probably find a strange sort of safe haven in Euphoria — which feels at times more like dreamscape to get lost in, than merely just another TV show.
Lead Image Credit: Euphoria / Instagram