HBO’s latest series, Euphoria, is largely unlike any show you’ve seen before but also intrinsically familiar to every teen-centric drama you have. It boasts a certain je ne sais quoi, as a number of ideas and tropes are bundled together and structured around the life of semi-recovering melancholic drug addict Rue (played spellbindingly by Zendaya). This Disney alumna is joined by a notably strong cast, forming an eclectic bunch, ranging from the typical school cheerleaders and hyper-masculine jocks to far more modern and woke constructs, such as transgender newcomer Hunter Schafer (who shines alongside Zendaya), drop-out drug dealers and body-shamed misfits.
However, it’s best to ignore any urge to draw preconceived ideas of what’s in store for you here: while some plot lines have admittedly been seen before, Euphoria’s creators have ramped intensity levels up to 11, modernising the high school environment and depicting graphic violence, drug use, sex and much, much more to blend the old with the new. To describe Euphoria as “heavy” is something of an understatement when it comes to exploring both teen and adult themes of sexuality, trust, betrayal, and morality.
Yet each of these individual character types manage to evolve across the show’s trippy eight hours. The directors subtly hone in on a character’s journey each episode as every other story thread overlaps and intertwines, allowing faces to which we’ve become accustomed to develop, as the students explore themselves to varying levels of fulfilment – something of a commentary on teenage life and, more broadly, the American ideal of the pursuit of happiness.
But Euphoria isn’t just for the teen demographic, even if it does flirt with the idea of being the next 13 Reasons Why, shaping its questionable, murky themes of drugs, sex, toxic masculinity, revenge porn, et al., into potentially glamorous traits for a young, susceptible audience to pick up and use in all the wrong ways. Indeed, the danger of Zendaya’s impressionable fan base tuning in to see their idol indulge in copious substances and engulfed by constant debauchery could present itself as problematic. Blaming the show for encouraging naive teens (or even pre-teens), however, isn’t a fair criticism, especially when 13 Reasons Why handled such sensitive material with far less grace and left a bitter taste in many people’s mouths.
For anyone over the tender age of 18, Euphoria is a remarkably engaging offering, resonating with viewers in their mid-30s, such as this writer. The nostalgia of school-based shows such as Freaks and Geeks, as well as cult classics such as Mean Girls and Election, are given a more contemporary, PC update here, and for all the carnage, chaos, and interweaving story threads written into its complicated scripts, it all works sublimely.
Across its debut season, Euphoria avoids any dip in quality, producing strongly-written stories that can increase tension, thrill and engage you emotionally in the deftest of ways. Arguably the only struggle you may embark upon is the curse of sticking with it after Episode 1 – not merely because it depicts a cluster of horrific visual moments so early on, but because one hour barely scratches the surface of this complex, intelligent, and flawed group of characters we grow to love, admire, hate or sympathise with.
Providing you can handle a barrage of shocking and triggering themes and some uncomfortable situations, Euphoria will, as a series, prove a rewarding, at times uplifting, experience, leaving you with an insatiable lust for resolution to the many, potentially volatile questions left unanswered when its finale fades to black.
The full box set of Euphoria is available on-demand through Sky Atlantic until 25th October 2019. Don’t have Sky? You can also stream it live and on-demand legally on NOW TV, for £7.99 a month (until 9th October 2019, when the price rises to £8.99), with no contract and a 7-day free trial.