In Support of Euphoria
Warning: This piece contains discussion of the HBO series, Euphoria, which includes heavy themes regarding substance abuse and addiction. (Also, beware of spoilers!)
HBO’s newest crowned jewel, the television series “Euphoria,” concluded its first season in early August, much to fans’ dismay (and justifiably so!) Since joining the Network, the series has garnered a devoted, cultish fanbase, eager to see what is to come of the characters they’ve come to know and love over the past 8 episodes. What is so different about “Euphoria” that has made so many people fall in love with it, though?
Helmed by creator Sam Levinson, “Euphoria” does an excellent job of capturing teenage angst— from love and loss to violence and contraband—and it leaves you feeling as though you’ve been punched in the gut and had an electric shock sent up your spine.
The most overwhelming common denominator amongst fans of the series is the sense of closeness that they feel to Levinson’s portrayal of youth (without sugar-coating), especially regarding Zendaya’s lead role as Rue. As Zendaya, herself, notes, she’s not the most reliable narrator (nor is her viewpoint entirely accurate 100% of the time) but in spite of this, having hee guidance and clarity as we navigate this emotionally-charged landscape is refreshing and utterly real.
Rue’s case is a tricky one, for her internal and external stressors are great on their own, but a category 5 natural disaster when put together. Not only is she grappling with the ups and downs of the various relationships in her life (including a budding romance that might be a little too dependent on her end), but she’s also dealing with addiction and its consequences in the aftermath of losing her father.
While writing the show, Levinson largely based Rue’s character on himself— on his experiences as a connection to his personal story. As a part of the audience, you can tell that Zendaya’s character isn’t a caricature, nor is she intended to be a PSA, turning “Euphoria” into some kind of ‘after school special.’ Rather, it shines a light on the reality of addiction—the mania, the depression, the relapse, and most importantly, the effects it has on a person’s relationships. What the masses, including the shows’ fanbase, still grapple to realize is that addiction is far from a choice. Sure, maybe someone chooses to use whatever substance or do whatever action they become addicted to initially but that eventual addiction is never something someone “asks for.” This show tackles this tricky subject in a way that makes this known.
Levinson is an ideal candidate to bring a narrative like Rue’s to life and it’s clear that this story and this show are close to his heart.
From an emotional level, “Euphoria”covers everything—from the highest highs to the lowest lows. From a personal standpoint, Episode 7 resonated with me on a massive level in terms of Rue’s journey (despite having a title with the word “pee” in it). Nearing the culmination of the season, Rue and her newfound friend Jules are at a crossroads, grappling with various stressors—on Rue’s end, most prominently, she’s in withdrawal and facing an overwhelming presence of depression. Watching Rue enter a self-aware, depressive cycle—in which she knew she needed to change (and, in her case, get up and use the bathroom), but she simply couldn’t—was almost too relatable. It’s difficult to explain depression to people who have never experienced it before but this episode portrayed it to a T. Of course, everyone’s experience of depression is varied but in my own, personal case, Rue became a mouthpiece for struggles that I was familiar with. When even getting out of bed is a chore and watching an endless marathon of ridiculous (but wildly entertaining) reality shows like Love Island seems more appealing—so as to distract yourself from the real world and what’s really going on inside your head—it becomes difficult to cope with a) what you’re doing and b) what you should be doing instead. That’s the key part of the debacle: you know that what you’re doing is self-destructive and unhealthy, and you don’t necessarily like what you’re doing either, but you can’t make yourself stop. It’s not easy to just “choose happiness” when you physically and emotionally face a brick wall.
It’s moments like these that makes “Euphoria” so powerful, and Zendaya’s not the only one tugging at the audience’s heartstrings. The entire ensemble is strong, comprised of amazing actors and actresses giving Emmy-worthy performances. Whether you loved or hated the characters they portrayed, “Euphoria’s” cast is excellent, especially because for many of the actors and actresses involved, this was one of their first professional projects in acting. That’s part of what makes this series so easily loveable—throughout the eclectic cast, viewers can find characters with whom they relate, empathize, and want to root for, and even those that they want to see fail (ahem, Nate).
There’s a distinct duality for each character—each major character in the cast is given their own arc and no one is disposable.
For Hunter Schafer’s Jules, she could be falling in love online one minute and facing the threat of criminal charges the next.
For Sydney Sweeney’s Cassie, she might be swallowing a live goldfish for a frat hazing one moment and facing a pregnancy scare in the next.
For Jacob Elordi’s Nate, he might be leading his football team to victory one minute and beating an innocent person to a pulp the next (which is deplorable, for reference).
Aside from being incredibly well-cast, one of the most prominently show-stopping aspects of “Euphoria” is its brilliant production design and composition. From the perspective of a viewer who knows nothing about the mechanics that go into television, I can safely say that “Euphoria” is one of the most visually pleasing shows I’ve come across. A cross between gritty and bubble gum sweet, the show’s creators have crafted a dreamlike alternate version of the high school experience—one that has more shock and aesthetic value. Needless to say, the show’s glitter budget must have needed a tax write off on its own.
Throughout the series, the characters attend larger-than-life parties, extravagant and far more elegant than your typical Gen Z-era high school Halloween party or school dance— things are much less suburban and definitely not sound-tracked by the Harlem Shake or Cardi B. Soundtrack inclusions such as Bronski Beat’s “Smalltown Boy,” Megan Thee Stallion’s “Cocky Af,” Too $hort’s “Blow the Whistle,” and a cover of 10cc’s “Not in Love” (by Kelsey Lu) solidify the fact that the teenagers of “Euphoria” are WAY cooler than I was in high school. Instead of rocking any number of ensembles from Urban Outfitters or Brandy Melville, the cast appear as though they’ve stepped out of an avant-garde photoshoot or straight off a high-fashion runway. From studded leather bustiers sported by Barbie Ferreira’s Kat to the velour tracksuits or Madonna-esque gowns adorned by Maddy (played by Alexa Demie), these supposed 17-year-olds have an unbreakable sense of individuality and confidence in that (even if they, like any normal teenage girl, sometimes waver in it).
Generally speaking, when casting, set and costume design, writing, and basically, EVERYTHING is considered, “Euphoria” racks up to be one of the most impressive series that I’ve personally come across as of late. Having the power to evoke raw emotion as well as utter, well, euphoria, “Euphoria” is a masterpiece of its era, ahead of its time. Though depicting very real, very intense, darker sides of teenage life, it stands true to the experience of many (and maybe the worst nightmares of many parents). It makes a statement that people need to hear—that even in youth, we go through utter sh*t on the daily, even if we’re decked out in rhinestones.