HBO's 'Euphoria' is an unflinching but empty portrayal of the modern teenage experience

HBOHunter Schafer and Zendaya star on HBO’s ‘Euphoria.’
  • HBO‘s “Euphoria” is a new drama that focuses on the experience of the modern teenager, and touches on themes like drug addiction, sexual awakenings, and everything in between.
  • The show features former Disney star Zendaya, along with a diverse cast of mostly Hollywood newcomers.
  • “Euphoria” has already garnered some controversy ahead of its June 16 premiere.
  • While “Euphoria” does a good job portraying the difficulties teens face today, including the effects of social media and drug addiction, it doesn’t really offer many profound insights.
  • Visit INSIDER’s homepage for more stories.

“Euphoria,” the new teen drama from HBO, paints a vivid and realistic portrait of the modern teenage experience.

The show is narrated by Rue (Zendaya), a 17-year-old high school student who’s also a drug addict. Fresh off a stint in rehab, Rue returns home to the suburbs for her junior year, with no plans to remain clean.

While Rue is the show’s narrator, “Euphoria” follows multiple characters as they struggle through high school. There’s Kat, a curvy girl in the throes of a sexual awakening; Jules, a young trans woman who just moved to the suburbs; Nate, a dangerously macho guy who’s secretly struggling with his sexual orientation; and Cassie, who is sure of herself and her sexuality but is criticised by her classmates for being a “slut.”

Rounding out the group is Maddie, Nate’s on-again, off-again girlfriend, and Chris, Cassie’s romantic interest. “A Wrinkle in Time” star Storm Reid appears as Rue’s younger sister, Gia.

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“Euphoria” takes an unflinching look at the ups and downs of the teenage years, and recognises the humour and pain that comes with discovering yourself. Certain moments, however, feel hyper-specific to 2019 – like when a video of Kat having sex (filmed without her consent) is leaked to the entire school, or when Jules is the victim of a sexual assault after a Grindr hookup gone terribly wrong.

The themes “Euphoria” touches on are pretty timeless, but overall, the show is mostly focused on portraying the intricacies that come with being a teenager in the era of Snapchat and Instagram.

Hbo euphoria zendayaHBOZendaya plays a drug-addicted teenager on HBO’s ‘Euphoria.’

Why you should care: Former “Disney” star Zendaya takes on a more adult role in “Euphoria,” which depicts racy subject matter.

In the days leading up to its premiere, “Euphoria” made headlines for its subject matter, including its depictions of sexual assault, drug usage, and overdoses, and teenage sexual encounters. While the show was especially criticised for its inclusion of a locker room scene that featured approximately 30 penises, creator Sam Levinson has stood by his decision to include such controversial material in the series.

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Former Disney star Zendaya plays Rue, a teenage drug addict fresh off a stint in rehab, on “Euphoria.” Zendaya previously appeared in Disney channel shows like “Shake It Up” and “KC Undercover,” and more recently, starred opposite Zac Efron in the 2017 film “The Greatest Showman.” In the first episode of “Euphoria,” Rue is found by her younger sister after having overdosed on drugs.

Given her character’s struggle with drugs and addiction, Rue is decidedly Zendaya’s most adult role to date.

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What’s hot: “Euphoria” paints a realistic portrait of teenage angst, addiction, and sexuality, while including a diverse range of perspectives.

“Euphoria” takes an unflinching look at the struggles modern teens face today, and gives special consideration to marginalized or otherwise overlooked perspectives. And while being a teenager is difficult at any point in time, the teens of 2019 have it especially hard, if “Euphoria” is any indication.

Some of the more compelling storylines revolve around the potentially catastrophic effects of social media, including when Kat, who was recorded (without her permission) while having sex, has to deal with the fallout of having the video leaked to the entire school. And when Jules, a trans woman who just moved to the suburbs, is outed at a party by Nate, the entire thing is recorded and, ostensibly, shared among everyone at the school. On “Euphoria,” much like real life, social media is a constant threat of humiliation.

Euphoria hboEddy Chen/HBOThis is Hunter Schafer’s first major role.

The double standards that many teens feel they have to live up to are also explored, especially as they relate to gender roles. Cassie, criticised by others for being a “slut,” is also chastised by the man she’s dating for making everything too “sexual.” But later, he implores her to send him nude photos of herself, calling her “beautiful” and “sexy.” Cassie’s sexuality, like that of many other teenage girls on the show, is both off-putting and desirable to her male peers.

“Euphoria” also does an excellent job of exploring the effects of toxic masculinity. Nate, the hyper-masculine star quarterback, is seemingly infatuated with his ex-girlfriend. However, he secretly struggles with his sexuality, and frequently uses the gay hookup app Grindr to initiate conversations with men. Conflicted and unable to express himself, he takes out his anger and frustration with gratuitous violence towards men and contempt for most women.

While the show isn’t always an easy watch, it does an excellent job of portraying the many difficulties modern teens have to deal with today.

What’s not: The show doesn’t offer many profound or original insights.

“Euphoria” does an excellent job of portraying a wide range of perspectives – but doesn’t offer much more than that. While “Euphoria” makes it clear that yes, some aspects of the teenage experience are heartbreaking, angering, and beyond unacceptable, there’s not a whole lot of commentary besides that. The show is quick to condemn perpetrators of sexual assault, misogyny, and transphobia without really exploring the structures that let these kind of behaviours happen.

Euphoria zendayaHBOBefore ‘Euphoria,’ Zendaya starred opposite Zac Efron in the 2017 film ‘The Greatest Showman.’

The bottom line: “Euphoria” takes an unflinching look at the struggles modern teens are facing today – just don’t expect much in the way of profound commentary.

The show is definitely worth a watch, and raises some important points about the effects of transphobia, sexual violence, and misogyny, among other topics. But the show doesn’t do much to explore why behaviours like these are still acceptable – or how we can begin to change them.

Grade: B+

“Euphoria” premieres on June 16 at 10 pm. You can watch the trailer here.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vuAzkZIiGxI

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