Love it or hate it, chances are you have heard about HBO’s series Euphoria at least once. Due to its gorgeous cinematography and the shameless portrayal of sexual behavior of its underage characters, the show is loved by many and hated by lots. As I wanted to decide which side was right, I decided to take one for the team and watch it for myself. So, here are my thoughts.
I’m gonna be brutally upfront with you – even before watching a single episode of Euphoria, I did not like the show one bit. Being somewhat active on social media, I’ve seen about a billion posts praising the series since it first aired two and a half years ago, and over time I’ve grown more and more curious about it. But a quick skim of the summary and trailer were enough to spark my disdain. I did not like the show, and no amount of propaganda on social media could change my mind.
However, it just so happened that my friend was a fan, so she had been begging me to watch it for years on end. “Come on, it’s not that bad! You will enjoy it, I promise!” were words I had been hearing constantly, and every single time I would roll my eyes and shake my head as a response. Until one day she (unexpectedly) won me over by telling me that if I was going to keep criticizing it, I had to at least watch it for myself. Or to use her exact words, “To talk shit, you gotta know shit”. And so, I reluctantly pressed play on the first episode…
As mentioned in the introduction, given how people on social media would not shut up about it, I already knew about 90% of the story prior to watching Euphoria, and I suppose that if you are on any social platform, you are somewhat familiar with it too. But if you aren’t, here’s a quick rundown.
The story revolves around a group of high school students, and narrates their experiences with love, drugs, search for identity, and the ups and downs of life. The main protagonist is Rue Bennett (Zendaya), a teenage drug addict who just came out of rehab and now has to dive right back into high school drama. The show details her journey toward sobriety, and narrates how her own struggles get tangled with the lives of some of her schoolmates and other town friends. Namely – Jules (Hunter Schafer), Maddy (Alexa Demie), Nate (Jacob Elordi), Cassie (Sydney Sweeney), Kat (Barbie Ferreira), Lexi (Maude Apatow), and Fezco (Angus Cloud). As each character deals with their own dose of trauma, the series explores various types of struggles, such as addiction, sexuality, family drama, turbulent friendships, toxic love affairs… you name it!
Here are my thoughts after watching Euphoria.
As I want to begin this article on a positive note, let me first go through all the things I enjoyed about Euphoria.
For starters, fans of the show were right – the cinematography and the visual aspect are simply stunning. Featuring impressive camera movements, remarkable cinematic lighting and a gorgeous color palette, the show is the marvelous creation of the cinematographer Marcell Rév. Arguably so, he does a wonderful job with the visuals, especially when it comes to matching the series’ essence and intensity through the filmmaking techniques. Given that the show is based on ‘emotional realism’ (that is, realism centered around emotions), an objective and formal approach to its cinematography would not have been a nice fit. Whereas, the use of contrasting primary colors and whimsical lighting perfectly translate the story’s feel and atmosphere to the viewers.
In fact, the visuals and aesthetics of Euphoria are definitely the best and most memorable elements of the show. From the perfectly coordinated soundtrack, to the lavish outfits and stunning makeup looks, the series is truly a feast for the eyes. And even here, ‘emotional realism’ plays an important part once again, since the clothes are actually there to further emphasize the characters’ emotions, as underlined by costume designer Heidi Bivens to Variety.
The acting is also good, notably in season two if you ask me – Zendaya particularly shines in the last 8 episodes, delivering tear-jerking performances back to back, and showcasing the magnitude of her acting versatility.
And now, onto stuff that’s a bit more negative… and a lot more fun!
I won’t lie – I have several issues with Euphoria, but I think most of them ultimately come down to the writing of the show. Now, the baseline of the story is actually very promising and interesting, but its execution is where things begin to fall apart. Sam Levinson (creator, main director and sole writer) frequently appears to get lost in the world of his own creation, leaving a chaotic mess behind himself more often than not.
First of all, the pace of the story is extremely uneven throughout the series. In certain episodes, it seems that a billion things are happening all at once, and all in the blink of an eye. Whereas other times, everything moves so excruciatingly slow it would put the sun to sleep. This imbalance is especially apparent in the second season, where it becomes agonizingly impossible to ignore.
Speaking of which – season two is where shit actually hits the fan in more ways than one. Other than it having more plot holes than Swiss cheese, the way certain characters are treated in the latest season is puzzling to say the least.
Some new protagonists appear completely out of the blue, whereas others (who previously played a core role in the plot) get completely tossed aside like discarded play toys. Kat is the most striking instance – in the first season, she had an interesting (albeit questionable) character arc, as she was exploring her sexuality and coming into her own as a plus-sized woman. In season two, this seems to be almost entirely forgotten, as she gets reduced to a side character with just a few brief scenes, all about her issues with self-worth and the impact of social media on her body image. Although this is a relevant and relatable topic to feature on a teen show, boiling down the only plus-sized character to the “girl who hates her body” trope just feels reductive at best.
Very similar is Jules’ character arc in season two – over the first season and her two special solo episodes, we saw her embarking on a journey of self-discovery, navigating through femininity and the trials of adolescence as a transgender woman. But despite it being a significant and impactful storyline at first, this hardly gets addressed in season two.
Season one felt chaotic but you could sense a pattern (albeit flimsy) in its chaos, whereas season two just feels messy and confused, almost like the writer was making stuff up on the go. If anything, the latest season is a true testament to the fact that Mr. Levinson desperately needs to establish a writers’ room, and have someone remind him what the hell is going on in his own show (since he clearly seems to be a bit of a scatterbrain).
Additionally, another unfortunate roadblock Euphoria has to face is the dialogue. Don’t get me wrong, sometimes the dialogue is okay (maybe even entertaining), but oftentimes it comes off as so awkward and unnatural, it makes me wonder whether Sam Levinson has ever had a conversation with another human being.
And let’s not even discuss all the swearing. I mean, I don’t see the harm in a couple of cuss words here and there, but they appear so often in Euphoria they just seem forced and out of place. If I may quote a friend of mine, “A lot of the dialogue in the show gives ‘middle schoolers who just learned what curse words are, and now insert them in every possible sentence’ energy”, and I really couldn’t have said it better. It just seems like something straight out of a 12-year-old’s Wattpad novel (and that’s not a compliment).
…and the Ugly
And now, let’s address the elephant in the room – the blatant oversexualization of teenagers.
Euphoria is known for always flirting with the line between showing uncomfortable truths and romanticizing controversial behaviors, but sometimes they just completely cross it. For instance, the show is habit to depicting its characters – most of whom are high schoolers, i.e. literal children – while engaging in sexual activities, in an overly-graphic and explicit manner. And in all honesty, the fact that the actors are all at least 23 years old is of little consolation since, at the end of the day, the characters they are playing remain teenagers.
Yes, some teenagers have sex – that’s not the problem. The problem is the extent to which sex is shown throughout the series, and always in such choreographed and sensationalized ways.
Not to mention, the oversexualization in Euphoria isn’t confined to the bedrooms – it’s in the way the characters act, dress, and present themselves. Particularly – the female characters, who dress as if they were 25-year-olds on their way to the club, and not 16-year-old kids going to second period.
Moreover, we have the storyline in season one where Kat decides to launch her career as a cam girl, and creates a channel on a PornHub-esque website where she dominates and sexually degrades adult men. The narrative is portrayed as a turning point of sexual liberation for the character, but… is it? I think not, for there’s no such thing as ‘sexual liberation’ when it comes to children – that’s just grooming.
And let’s not even get into how often the series depicts characters engaging in violent sexual activities, or how a major plot point of season one is Jules lying about her age to have sex with adult men… It’s just so unrevocably over the line, it cannot even see the line. To paraphrase Friends – the line is a dot to Euphoria.
This only gets worse when you remember that the writer is a grown man… doesn’t that seem just a little disturbing? Perhaps I’m just a prude, but I think that no matter how you swing it, there’s something deeply sinister about an adult man sitting down and writing multiple explicit sex scenes with underage girls.
The main issue here is that the graphic aspect of the sexualization is not essential to the advancement of the story in any way. One might argue that it’s there for provocation and shock-value, but I think any writer worth their salt would not need to retort to such an escamotage to make their story impactful. Good writing is all you need, but I guess no one gave the memo to Mr. Levinson.
Is It Worth a Watch?
All in all, Euphoria is not the worst thing I have ever seen. It’s not amazing (that’s for sure), but I could stand to rewatch it if someone held a gun to my head. Is it worth a watch? That’s still up for debate, but there’s one thing I can tell you – if you don’t like it, watching it will not change your mind. Well, at least it didn’t change mine.
On the other hand, I think watching it for myself was ultimately a good decision, as it allowed me to see why so many people love it, and made me realize why I do not. It’s a gorgeous production, with its intoxicating visuals and compelling aesthetics, and it doesn’t have an overly-complicated and hard-to-follow narrative. But once you look beyond its shiny exterior, all you will find are plot holes and moral ambiguity. It’s simply eye-candy, but nothing more.
That’s why Euphoria is perfectly titled in my opinion – once you come down from the first-impact sweet euphoric high with the gorgeous visuals, all that you’re left with is a numb, underwhelming and uncomfortable show that is bound to leave a sour aftertaste.
Cover: Emma C. C.
Edited by Carolina Alves