Review: Euphoria

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Euphoria on HBO, June 2019 Created by Sam Levinson Cast: Zendaya, Hunter Schafer, Storm Reid, Maude Apatow, Syndney Sweenie, Alexa Demie, Barbie Ferreira, Jacob Elordi

Synopsis

Following a group of high school students as they navigate love and friendships in a world of drugs, sex, trauma and social media.

Via Rotten Tomatoes

Euphoria may be a bleak, gritty and at times nihilistic depiction of today’s American teenage experience, but at its core lies a raw honesty and vulnerability. Zendaya shines as the lead character Rue, a drug-addict and the show’s self-confessed unreliable narrator; her mesmerizing performance is gripping and at times difficult to watch. The rest of the fresh faced cast is equally as talented, delivering impressive performances at every turn.

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Youth & Social Media: how the internet becomes a recurring character

Euphoria may seem unrealistic to some but perhaps it is because many of us are so far removed from this generation’s suburban American youth culture. Sex, alcohol, drugs and intense relationships are the traditional by-products of the high-school experience, today however these trials are further intensified by the omnipresence of social media. Euphoria explores the role of social media in today’s coming-of-age experience. Over the course of 8 episodes it illustrates the pros and cons of this ever-present and all-consuming tool and how it impacts young and vulnerable minds. How it can be used to educate, inspire, empower and how it can be used to torment, blackmail and essentially, overpower.

There’s no doubt that the topic of modern technology is discussed excessively today, however to truly appreciate Euphoria we must acknowledge technology’s place as a recurring character in the story. We simply cannot escape the internet. It has become essential. We are only just beginning to understand just how it is affecting our youth, and why. There was a time where kids and teenagers could escape the bullies and all of the dirt of the school fishbowl. Now, as seen in Euphoria, kids bring it home with them. School was hard-enough already with popularity contests, gossip, bullying and ‘locker-room talk’- now they have the added pressure of having to deal with the online-world and all of its flaws, with the traditional high-school dramas being accentuated on un-monitored apps. This results in the teens drowning in their own excess. They are forced to face things they aren’t emotionally mature enough to deal with.

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All that being said, I think it’s important here to say that Euphoria is careful to place the blame depending on the situation. It doesn’t depict social media as ‘the enemy’. It simply illustrates its complicated nature: we get to see both the empowering opportunities of the internet, and its destructive power in the wrong hands. Unfortunately, the cons outweigh the pros by a long shot. Catfishing, revenge porn, cyber-bullying. Some characters find solace and belonging in the online world whilst others simply seek to use it to their advantage. Nate, the show’s antagonist played by the talented Jacob Elordi, is a master of control and manipulation and has no trouble exploiting this platform for personal gain. The major story-lines of Euphoria stem from these spiteful tactics which leave the audience feeling a little low- because they are so painfully believable.

Euphoria explores many facets of this social-media theme in a fantastically modern manner. A lot of its allure come from its aesthetically appealing artistic vision: stunning visuals, smooth camerawork, tracking shots and a glittery and visceral colour palette. Combined with Rue’s narration, the show often feels disconnected from reality in terms of time and perspective. You wouldn’t think that such a stylistic approach would work to the story’s advantage, but it does. It takes the audience inside the sensational mind of the modern teenager and yet, Euphoria somehow dodges the romanticised-sadness bullet: it depicts the highs of youth but also its confusion and messiness. “I feel like I’m not even a person yet…

This is a character-driven series: every 1st sequence of each episode focuses on one character’s backstory which makes all the drama feel just that little bit heavier.

Presented with imaginative camerawork and a slew of honest performances, Euphoria is the rare teen drama that asks real questions about young people's proclivity for self-destruction while neither judging nor glorifying them. - Adam Epstein for Quartz

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Finding a target audience

“Sexuality is a spectrum”

Euphoria is without a doubt a coming-of-age show, one that should be celebrated for its inclusive casting and diverse story-lines. However I think it’s normal for the critics and audience to question the target audience. With the presence of explicit sex-scenes and full frontal nudity it feels like this story is targeted towards young-adults rather than teenagers, but the story is about teenagers. How do you explore these relationships without sexualising the under-age characters? It’s a tricky line to walk but overall I think Euphoria succeeds in telling a story about humans, being human. They are not sexualised by the camera (which is so refreshing).

The Art Direction should absolutely be applauded for depicting something so deeply personal and honest and youthful whilst remaining respectful and empathetic to these characters who are experiencing the messiness and confusion of adolescence. That is what makes Euphoria so great.

Holly

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Overall, I enjoyed Euphoria. The array of characters felt authentic and were brought to life so brilliantly by the cast, there were so many stand-out performances which is what ultimately drew me back episode after episode. The stylised cinematography really complimented the story-telling and Rue’s narration - but succeeded in not glamorising drug-addiction or depression; which is an impressive feat considering how these two elements are fundamental to the plot. I did find the nudity to be excessive and ultimately uncomfortable at times, (after all these characters are underage teenagers) but I do applaud Euphoria ‘s bold attempt to explore the confusion, messiness and anxiety that accompanies it. It’s also possibly the best TV depiction of social media in today’s youth culture that I’ve seen - its presence is at times suffocating , yet there are some who find solace and even empowerment within. They also normalised so many story-lines that many other shows would exploit as plot points (someone coming-out, someone losing their virginity, someone revealing they’re trans etc). If anything, watch Euphoria for Zendaya’s raw performance. You won’t regret it.

Summer