It’s been a long time since there’s been a good teen drama on TV. Riverdale has completely oversaturated the drama with its glossy, PG-13 quality, and yet something like 13 Reasons Why, although for more mature audiences, exists for all the wrong reasons, attempting to capitalize and glorify themes of teenage suicide, drug abuse, and sex. Fortunately, HBO’s flashy new show Euphoria is here to change all that. Created by Sam Levinson (known for directing last year’s TIFF Midnight Madness pick Assassination Nation), produced by A24, and Drake, this show manages to tackle everything 13 Reasons Why attempts to, in a much more tasteful, yet dark, mature manner.
The pilot opens up with narration from the show’s protagonist Rue, (played by pop culture icon Zendaya) as she explains being born on the day of the 9/11 attacks, her upbringing, and what eventually led to her drug addiction. Immediately Sam Levinson’s style used in his freshman feature last year comes into play. Saying that, the actual writing that is present is miles slicker than his previous work. While the narration utilized in Assassination Nation felt like it was trying to sound “hip” and “relevant”, the use of Zendaya’s voice, even when she’s talking about other character’s lives (which she has no business being apart of), always feels warranted in a classic Martin Scorsese-like fashion.
While the first two episodes of the show so far have followed Rue and her troubles with drug addiction, the show still features an ensemble cast, showcasing different stories that all remain relevant for teens (that are my age) nowadays. A toxic relationship born out of a popularity contest is displayed through the eyes of characters, Nate and Maddy. The underaged character Jules is seen through her ventures of lying to older men on a Tinder-like app in order to have sex with them. The character of Kat has her nudes leaked to the entire school (and the internet). And Cassie and Chris experience what it’s like to have a natural, realistic teenage sex life.
The hot topic of this show is the subject matter. Most importantly the mature themes and at times triggering content that is warned to the audience not only before every episode but also made public via Zendaya’s Twitter account. Since this is an HBO show, as much graphic content as needed is available. While the infamous “30 penises” scene in episode 2 felt a little showy, the ability to not be held back content-wise ends up working in the show’s favour. The uncensored drug abuse sequences often feel raw, and make the audience uncomfortable, to say the least. In no way do I think this show is attempting to glorify the use of underage sex, drugs, and whatnot. Instead, it is attempting (and succeeding) at telling a beautiful, unfortunately realistic depiction of what it’s like to go to a high school in North America.
What I’m most interested in, is who is actually watching this show. I’m fortunate enough to be able to afford an HBO subscription and therefore tune into this series, but what about the other kids my age, that maybe aren’t subscribed to HBO? Similar to last year’s Eighth Grade (which was rated R in the USA, not permitting children under the age of 17 to see the film), a film about 13-year-olds, I see teenagers – who most definitely should and *need* to be exposed to this story – not having access to Euphoria. Not only does it express the dangers of underage drug abuse, but the show is written in such a clever way that the audience is able to connect and understand Rue’s addiction, and feel bad for her when she puts herself in as dangerous situations as she already has.
Episode 1 and 2 have not been tame subject matter-wise, and I can only see the stakes getting higher throughout the next six episodes, as Rue’s final moments after being forced to take a dose of fentanyl during the most recent episode was quite devastating.
I absolutely recommend this show to anyone who’s interested in seeking it out, and also highly recommend it to teens my age in order to see a scarily accurate depiction of what growing up in 2019 is really like.