Arts Reviews

TV Review: Euphoria

Lucinda Dodd

HBO’s Euphoria is reaching new heights in popularity with its soundtrack and aesthetics achieving mounting social media attention. The eight episodes – released in summer 2019 – star Zendaya and follow the journey of 17-year-old Rue, who begins the programme having just left rehab for drug addiction.

Zendaya’s portrayal of Rue is unerring and soul-stirring and her mastery is matched by her co-stars. The end of each episode sees a cast member discuss their role in shaping and understanding their character. It’s the cast’s personal devotion for portraying adolescence in a “gritty and realistic” way, as stated by Sydney Sweeney – the actor of enchanting but scarred character Cassie – which makes Euphoria so authentic.

Created by Sam Levinson, Euphoria is renowned for its striking aesthetics including iridescent eyeshadow and bold fashion. Fluorescent hues of pink, purple and blue seen in the visuals contrast with the show’s dark portrayal of contemporary suburban American teenage life. Euphoria embraces what its competition too often shies away from: covering every issue of adolescence thinkable – from questioning sexuality to parental alcoholism. Euphoria viewers benefit from seeing youth issues through the lens of a teenager, parent and younger sibling.

At points you may feel almost too devastated to continue watching whilst at other times you might not be able to stop

The show is at its strongest when eliciting powerful feelings from viewers – whether you can personally relate to the characters’ struggles or not. The universality of the emotions they experience with will lure you into their world. The intensity the storylines induce is augmented by the distinctive, mystical soundtrack. This features Labyrinth’s hit song Still Don’t Know My Name. The show mirrors Rue’s struggle with Bipolar. At points you may feel almost too devastated to continue watching whilst at other times you might not be able to stop.

Euphoria can also be credited for its success at overcoming long-established binaries. It portrays sexuality and gender identity in a fluid way. No character is confined to a box and labels are never used. To quote Rue’s best friend and love interest, Jules, portrayed by Hunter Schafer: “There is no room for heteronormativity here.” Moreover, it avoids presenting characters as inherently as ‘good’ or ‘bad’. Euphoria will have you rooting for characters who you want to hate.

Euphoria is an important show. Alongside Sex Education, it’s one of the few programmes which explores issues such as abortion, sexual assault and mental health in a candid, truthful way – helping create awareness and discussion which is much needed and often considered taboo. Euphoria also tackles toxic masculinity and the idea of “conquering femininity” – delving into the injurious effects of stereotyped gender roles. Its exploration of these previously impermissible subjects is paramount to eradicating harmful social constructs. This, alongside its liberated approach to sexuality, could see Euphoria go down as a game-changer for portrayal of such topics in television.

The show is diminished by the sheer amount of explicit content: viewer discretion is definitely advised! Some episodes are also rightly labelled with a trigger warning, as Euphoria contains scenes which could be unsettling for victims of violence and sexual assault.

Moments like this take away from its high calibre feel and resemble the cringe often felt when watching shows like Riverdale

Some of the dialogue and plots are incredulous, especially considering the young age of the characters. Hearing Fez, portrayed by Angus Cloud, tell Rue he owns multiple guns ‘to protect his Grandma’ is unintentionally laughable. So too were scenes where Fez’s pre-teen brother, ‘Ashtray’ (yes, really!) – portrayed by Javon Walton — sells drugs and admires the money laundering benefits of Bitcoin. However, maybe I’ve just lived a sheltered life? Moments like this take away from its high calibre feel and resemble the cringe often felt when watching shows like Riverdale.

Euphoria does a disservice to its young and impressible teenage audience by failing to convey a serious warning message about the dangers of grooming and statutory sexual assault. For instance, the underage character Kat – played by Barbie Ferreira – becomes a cam girl, entertaining old men online for money.  It’s never suggested through the storyline why sexual encounters involving teenagers and much older men are problematic.

Overall, the show’s bewitching visuals, faultless soundtrack and enthralling storylines make it both a powerful and meaningful watch, securing it a 3.5 out of 5 stars. The unorthodox yet moving ending will make you desperate to know where each character is heading and excited for the anticipated second series. With a global pandemic being one of the few topics the show doesn’t address, I’d recommend Euphoria to anyone looking to escape the constraints of the Coronavirus world.  

Lucinda Dodd

Featured image courtesy of @alexlowenthal via Unsplash. Image license found here. No changes were made to this image.

In article images courtesy of @euphoria via Instagram. No changes were made to these images.

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