Euphoria is an HBO series (an American adaptation of an Israeli series), that follows a group of teenagers as they navigate through the trials and tribulations, the hardships and the emotional highs and lows of being a teenager in today's modern age. The series focuses on serious subject matters such as drug addiction, abusive relationships, and mental illness.
This is, of course, an oversimplified version of the show, but it's difficult to summarize it in a single paragraph since there's a lot to unpack when it comes to this series, because believe me, it's a lot.
What drew me to this show was Zendaya, naturally, however what kept me watching was not only the rest of the performances by everyone else in the cast but also the storytelling and how everything was unfolding. This isn't a lighthearted show, and to be honest I actually had to take a break midway through because it was giving me anxiety. But once I did continue and finish the first season, I had so much more appreciation of what this show had to offer. Visually, everything in this show is absolutely stunning. From the cinematography, the use of vivid colors and lighting, the imagery in every shot, just the meticulous attention to the details and the effort placed into everything makes the show such a visual treat. This show is purposefully stylistic for the metaphor of being a teenager, as well as just being very distinctive from other shows and how it presents itself. Plus, I love the juxtaposition of using vivid colors and imagery alongside the dark, bleak, and depressing moments of the show. It demonstrates that it can be glamorous visually without glamorizing the difficult issues that it deals with, which I really appreciate.
Another thing I appreciated was how it deals with these subject matters. The show doesn't preach at you nor is it careless or thoughtless either, it's just very raw and honest and very matter-of-fact. The showrunner himself, Sam Levinson, is a recovering drug addict and also suffers from mental illness and he's been very open and earnest with his struggles, so it's reassuring to know that these issues are being handled respectfully and with enough sensitivity and care that it doesn't devolve into the areas of exploitation and shock value. Yes, the show goes to graphic and uncomfortable places, but it never sensationalizes these issues, and I really respect the show to doing that. Another thing that I liked was the tackling of particular subject matters that I haven't really seen done as accurately as this show does, such as demonstrating the damaging effects of toxic masculinity. We have characters like Nate Jacobs who is basically the personification of white male privilege and toxic masculinity, but we also see how other characters are affected by it as well, such as with McKay, who seems like a nice and decent guy at first but we start seeing how he's influenced by this dangerous mentality. It may not be as overt as Nate is, but it's still there regardless. So seeing these different examples was scary and uncomfortable, but refreshing since we don't really see this presented in such a way in media. We often just see the more obvious somewhat stereotypical side of it, but never the subtler ways it can be harmful.
There are a lot of things I could discuss about Euphoria, because the more I think about it the more things I discover that I want to further examine and talk about. Basically, this show is a stunning visual representation that repeats the same issues that many other teen dramas have shown before, just updated through the lens of what the current generation of youths are going through. And the way the show is written, structured, and shot, they take a lot of time to present these things accurately and in a sensitive, smart way that doesn't overdo or undersell the subject matters and issues they're trying to represent.
Little things I liked about the show:
** My favorite characters on the show are Rue, Jules, and Maddy. I have a soft spot for Cassie, I love Fez and want to know more about him. I also want to know more about Lexi too, and hopefully she gets an episode dedicated to her in season two. And I'm intrigued by Bebe, she's essentially a minor character but I'm curious about her deal.
** The fact that the show probably has the most accurate representation of how teenagers are in school, particularly friend groups. Instead of going for the typical high school clique that is so commonly seen in media, the show actually has characters who know each other and are interconnected with their friend groups that even if we don't see them interacting as much as they're going through their own storylines, we have no doubt that they're still friendly towards one another. We see this demonstrated in the season finale when all the girls are sitting together at the school dance, they clearly know each other and talk with one another in a casual way that further shows us that this is true. This is very true to how school was in my own experience. You didn't have cliques, you had friends, and friend groups that interacted and knew other friend groups that interconnected with one another.
** This leads me to how none of the characters are stereotypes. For example, in any other show, Maddy would've been that vapid popular mean girl stereotype, but in the show she is not that at all. I mean, she knows and is friends with Rue. She's friendly with Jules. She's only mean if you cross her, but that's no different from any other character on the show. Hell, even characters like Nate Jacobs, who is basically toxic masculinity personified, is more complex than what you'd normally expect. And Jules, instead of her being the token trans character, her storyline doesn't exist solely to address the fact that she's trans (yes, it's a part of her arc, but not the only thing which is the difference).
** The music in this show is simply amazing, particularly the fact that they got Labrinth to be a huge influence on the main music, and then they also had Zendaya do a cover of "All For Us" in the actual show. Beautiful, stunning, phenomenal, etc.
** As I mentioned, this show has such amazing attention to detail, that it's amazing reading up on how intricate it all is. It's just amazing knowing how much thought they put into everything, from each individual character's fashion choices and makeup to represent them and how they are emotionally and their evolution throughout the season, to the choices in music and the lighting and cinematography and just, ugh. It's so, so amazing how much work goes into this show.
** This show does feature nudity, however I would say that the majority of nudity comes in the form of penises than the exploitation of women's bodies. In fact, this show features a lot of cock shots, more than any other show I've seen, including Spartacus. Like, they had a scene specifically with Rue explaining and showing the differences of dickpics. No other show has ever featured this kind of content in such a manner. However, the only reason why it's shocking isn't because it's so blatant, but because we hardly, if ever, get to see full frontal male nudity in shows that feature nudity. It's always been women who are fully naked. Even though it's graphic, it's a nice turn of the tables.
** The handling of mental illness, particularly depression, was well-done. They took it seriously and was able to really articulate the highs and lows without demeaning or reducing it down to "oh take pills then it'll be all good". Having a character like Rue, who not only suffers from drug addiction, but also mental illness and seeing her struggle with these highs and lows, the "waxing and waning", of her depression, really hit home for me. Many shows and things in media try to convey this, and it's not that some don't try or don't do a good job, but this is the first time I've seen it laid out so plainly and easy to understand how the effects of mental illness is with someone. Much of this is due to not only the writing, but Zendaya's convincing performance.
Overall: Euphoria was a genuine surprise for me, because I didn't know what I was expecting. Zendaya blew me away with her acting, as did everyone else, and everything else about this show was so phenomenally done. Yes, it did stress me out at times and gave me anxiety, but once I got passed that I appreciated what was happening, and it made me appreciate the storytelling so much more. I grew attached to the characters, and I want to see the outcome of their individual storylines, which makes me anticipate the second season especially where things left off in the season one finale. I cannot wait.
TL;DR: I will admit that while Euphoria is a fantastic show, it might not be for everyone considering the content it features. The subject matters it explores can be triggering, anxiety-inducing, and uncomfortable and hard to watch at times, but nevertheless it's not exploitative and manages to handle difficult issues with dignity and respect. Also, keep in mind that this is a show on HBO, it's a series about teenagers for a mature audience, similar to that of UK's Skins, for example.
For anyone wanting more insight, the cast did a Q&A at the ATX Festival where they showed the pilot episode before the show premiered, and they talk and answer questions in regards to the show, the process, etc. It's a great way of getting to know what the show is likely about without getting too spoiled. It's also good to hear how eloquently Zendaya answers questions, which I've watched her interviews before but the way she talks about this show, especially with the showrunner/creator, it proves just how passionate she is about this role.