Euphoria either threatens me or greatly disappointed me, and I’m still not sure which one it is.
I wish I had an articulate explanation for the conflicting feelings this show gave me. I felt like I had just been beaten up and left half conscious in an alley way. I’d just watched every main and minor character get both literally and theoretically tortured, my only comforts being slick camera work and HBO’s high class version of that moody neon atmospheric vibe which every teen Netflix show has been forcing on us since Stranger Things came out.
First things first. I’m not really sure what his actual role was in this series, but Drake didn’t actually curate the soundtrack…he was more of an ambassador/champion for the show. All due credit goes to supervisor Jen Malone, for hand picking, curating and licensing every episode’s 15-20 songs. That’s quite a lot of songs per episode, by the way. Sounds expensive. I really liked Labyrinth’s original score for the show, featuring tracks ‘All For Us‘ and ‘Mount Everest‘. Euphoria is another reminder of how soundtrack immensely affects both the spirit of a show and it’s audience’s emotional response.
The art direction/production quality/visual communication was incredibly sharp, I mean, that carnival episode…
The cinematography was gorgeous and depressing as fuck. It really felt like I was tripping there for a second. I love when costume and make up is utilised to it’s fullest potential. Heidi Bivens, the show’s costume designer and Doniella Davy, head make up artist, managed to create an emotive and intense visual experience through each character’s personal style. Their real life impact is huge too, don’t tell me you didn’t see the millions of Euphoria halloween costumes roll in last year. I try not to let the 5000 repetitive Youtube tutorials called ‘Euphoria make up’ on my suggested page get me down, cause I love that for Heidi and Doniella. They deserve it.
As far as plot and characterisation, though, I was a little lost. I’ll start with the bits that I liked, to avoid overdosing on negativity:
Liked: Kat and Ethan
Kat and Ethan’s nice lil ending was the only euphoric thing about Euphoria. It was one of the only coherent unfolding plots that I eagerly followed. I assume Kat’s foray into web cam performance was meant to be a empowering comment on plus size self-acceptance and taking ownership of her sexuality, but it kind of came across as glamorising underage porn. This show sympathetically discussed the issue of substance abuse. I wish themes like the hyper sexualision of teenagers were treated with the same care.
Liked: Zendaya as Rue
While not necessarily ‘groundbreaking’, a 30 year old caucasian male’s choice to portray a story inspired by his own experiences through a teenage, female, black character is refreshing. At the end of the day, the characters we create aren’t just organic ideas we have no control over, they are conscious choices. Casting Zendaya was an excellent decision.
Liked: Responsible but not moralistic depiction of drugs
We see a lot of shows with teenagers taking drugs. There’s a fine line between a show that glamorises teenage drug-use for aesthetics and shock-value, and a show that genuinely wants to be emotionally realistic and take the viewer inside the mind of the user. Having said that, I think Euphoria succeeded in showing both the temporary thill of drugs and the shitty aftermath without becoming a Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas 2.0 or a moralistic after-school special. Old school teen dramas like Beverly Hills: 90210 and Dawson’s Creek would have like one annual episode per season dedicated to warning kids off drugs, which were 100% cringey but also fun and hilarious:
Sam Levinson, Euphoria’s sole creator and writer, speaks very openly on how Rue is based on himself.
“I spent the majority of my teenage years in hospitals, rehabs and halfway houses” “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 would let it take me over, and I had made peace with that.”Sam Levinson
I watched the Euphoria AXT Festival panel and his honesty about this part of his life nearly made me cry. I’m happy he was able to channel his pain into something he’s proud of and that so many people enjoy. Overall, Euphoria‘s authenticity relating to drugs came down to a writer literally writing what he knows. It’s age-old advice that will always be true.
There is parental, viewer and reviewer contention about whether Euphoria glamorises drugs, though. I found these articles interesting:
- Variety29 – The Truth About The Fentanyl Scene In Euphoria
- Vulture – Euphoria Doesn’t Have a Drug Problem
- NY Times – Watching ‘Euphoria,’ Two Young Recovering Addicts Saw Themselves
Liked: Hunter Schafer as Jules
More trans characters on TV, please.
Hunter Schafer and I share the same feelings about Jules:
“I was really mad at Jules for that,” “You don’t leave your friend-slash-lover alone in a train station at 1 a.m. At the same time, she’s 17 and has been through this crazy shit and she needs to get out. I know where that all is coming from. She felt really stuck and Nate has been manipulating her and forcing her literally to do crime. And then Rue was sort of suffocating her. It was all too much.” “She can’t save Rue,” “She can’t be Rue’s savior.”Hunter Schafer
I’m a simple girl. All I ask for is a dedicated episode for my flawed but staunchly loyal favourite character. His fate is so up in the air, and it makes me really fucking nervous.
Loved: Nate’s breakdown moment
Give Jacob Elordi an emmy!
Didn’t like so much: Confusing at times
Not gonna lie, I had issues following what the hell was going on as I watched this show. Maybe it’s because I’m dumb. But I think the characters felt too seperate from one another. It’s as if they lived crossed paths at school and at parties, but existed in completely different worlds. Maybe that was intentional, a comment on gen-Z’s epidemic of isolation and loneliness. But I think it was because some of the relationships weren’t given slow momentum, everything kept happening at once and more often than not, I couldn’t work out why. I began to lose track of plot points in the whirlwind of special effects, exposed penises and I Am Gia outfits. Like that bit where Maddy and Cassie did Molly at the fair and Cassie had a public orgasm on the merry-go-round…was I supposed to be a shocked parent here? I felt like one. Overall I found there to be too many characters, in the sense that too many plot threads had barely gotten started halfway through the season. I actually love a good slow burner (hello Mad Men and The Americans) but nothing else in this show burned slowly, so it felt weird.
Psychopathic jock Nate, don’t get me wrong, was highly entertaining. I am thoroughly impressed with Jacob Elordi’s performance. It’s a beautiful thing, his The Kissing Booth to Euphoria glow up. While Nate was one of the most extreme and memorable characters, he is such a stereotypical trope-y villain for a show that favours unconventional characters. He was literally a closeted-homophobe devil, tricking and blackmailing Jules, shoving Maddy into a wall, intentionally beating that blonde dude to near death to assert possession of his ex-girlfriend, manipulating Jules with her own nudes…It’s incredibly far fetched that you’d meet anyone quite this menacing in high school…diluted expressions of him, definitely, but no one quite on his special, piece-of-shit level.
*Update* My friend actually said Nate was the first character in any teen drama show he could genuinely associate with a person from high school. I stand corrected.
I’m starting to think that each character in Euphoria represents a different caricatured gen-Z dilemma. Rue, who’s been medicated for a combination of disorders from a young age, is now addicted to drugs and relapsing after rehab. Cassie literally has daddy issues and struggles with a slut shaming (yet nude photo requesting) boyfriend and general over-sexualisation at the hands of men. Maddy is a confident ex-pageant girl who doesn’t know what she wants out of life and performs sexually to get what she wants from guys. Nate is your classic jock with childhood trauma and internalised homophobia, who exudes toxic masculinity and controls/manipulates the people in his life. Jules is a trans young woman who has formed an unhealthy and VERY UNSAFE habit meeting unavailable older men online. Kat is a self-conscious plus size girl who wants to be seen differently by her peers and creates an overtly sexualised webcam girl alter ego.
By the way, Maddy “lost her virginity” at the age of 14 to a man who was “like 40”, “Which in retrospect, seems kinda rape-y and weird,”,“but honestly, she was the one in control”. I know Rue is meant to be an unreliable narrator but this voiceover pissed me off, to say the least, especially since she has something woke to say about every single other topic.
Are we seeing a pattern here? Not a single female character in this show gets to express their sexuality in a healthy, secure way. Everyone except Rue is treated like a sex doll and uses sex in one way or another as currency or to validate themselves. This is a seriously true and damning reality for a lot of young women. Problematic pornography, male desire and male fantasy drive the sexual interactions of the teenagers in Euphoria, just like in real life. At least our boys Ethan and Fez are out there respecting women.
I guess I just feel that constantly showing these overage actors in intentionally provocative, explicit nude scenes mimicking the very kinds of violent porn you’re condemning, while they’re posing as underage teenagers…is hypocritical. It’s odd to be profiting from/perpetuating something visually but ‘calling it out’ at the same time with a monotonous voiceover. One could say that this show’s borderline paedophilic imagery is actually a perverted middle aged man’s wet dream.
Felt confused by: child drug dealer
What the fuck do I want? I want to know your age!
The ending. I think Euphoria‘s final episode is the best one, I’d go as far as saying it’s fucking immaculate, which sucks because it was the first time in the whole season where I was dying to know what happens next.
Watch the first video to see the montage, and second to see the overdose…
It seems Levinson was inspired by the depressing rawness and rotating character episodic format of Skins, and of course, the pure, lamenting teen angst of My So-Called Life…
Rue: Watcha doin’?
Gia: Watching My So-Called Life.
Rue: *Chuckles* Fuckin’ Jordan Catalano.
Gia: I know, right?
Rue: Right. Ugh.
Rue: Please promise me you will never fall for a Jordan Catalano.
Gia: But he’s so cute. *Laughs*Euphoria episode 3 ‘Made You Look’
Pretty on the nose, right? It’s cute though. Here is a more in depth analysis of Euphoria in relation to My So-Called Life.
However the musical number ending reveals even more of Levinson’s strong Skins inspiration…
It’s not offensive to say these shows definitely have things in common, but it is offensive to say Skins walked so Euphoria could run, that Skins was amateur and Euphoria is better. That is called slander. Read more here.
Anyway, the prom scene where all the girls sit at the table casually talking was the first time I felt these characters were genuinely socially connected with one another, aware of each other’s life events, sympathetically relating to one another. 100% this was intentional, but personally as a viewer, I would have preferred more of this connectedness throughout. I get it though, they’re all alone, no one understands them, and the small amount of people who do, always leave or abandon them…
Who is the target audience?
Euphoria shows an exaggerated reality of American gen-Z life via various severe characters, who each embody different assigned struggles. As a scody New Zealander who’s main exploits were drinking crusiers at Waitangi Park at age 14, going halves on a pack of JPS Longs with my mate, and smoking a half-used jay that my friends and I found on the ground and hoping for the best, there were elements I struggled to grasp, and many which felt out of touch. I think about 1 in 10 of my friends had actual meaningful relationships in high school, let alone one wild/traumatising enough to inspire TV dramatisation. All of this is fine, though, because I am definitely not Euphoria‘s target audience.
I do wonder though…who is Euphoria‘s target audience? Is it American teens, who are reportedly having less sex and taking less drugs than ever? Is it their parents, to give them a graphic (debatably overblown) insight into their kids’ porn influenced, iPhone addict generation?
I’m not really sure, and I’m still trying to work out how I feel about what I saw. But I think despite everything I’ve written, this show had good intentions. And of course, an uber talented cast and team behind it. I’m intrigued to see what happens next.
OTHER REVIEWS/ANALYSIS/COMMENTARIES I ENJOYED: