Euphoria, the dark HBO drama following American high-schoolers in 2019, has an incredibly hard job to do. After TV shows such as Riverdale and 13 Reasons Why, the genre of teen dramas seems to trademark itself as unwatchable cringe at best, and dangerous misrepresentation at worst. Euphoria, however, is excellent.
To see a show about teenagers (not necessarily for teenagers) dealing with topics such as anxiety, depression, underage pornography, self-harm, body-shaming and a whole list of other teen drama trademarks done in such a unique and original way, is what the genre desperately needs.
The superb acting on behalf of the cast helps to bring these issues to life in a way that has been severely lacking from depictions of mental health in the past. The words anxiety and depression have been given more of a platform than ever before, while understanding of what these words mean remains cloudy.
Euphoria offers a picture of what these illnesses truly look like, free from both romanticism and stigma. Zendaya’s performance as drug-addicted Rue allows viewers to see the cost of addiction on both the individual and those close to them, yet with empathy and understanding for the reasons she has fallen into unhealthy coping mechanisms. Jules’s dysphoria is described in a simplistic way that cis people can perhaps not truly understand, but sympathise with.
More than anything, most labels are taken away in the show, leaving the viewers to fill in the gaps and create an understanding for themselves of what these issues mean. For example, it is never explicitly said which characters are gay or straight, creating a more accurate picture of the fluid nature of sexuality.
In addition to the acting and subject matter, the cinematography itself sets Euphoria miles apart from standard high school dramas. Long shots, stylised sequences and whiplash scene transitions give a trippy and atmospheric aura to the show. The opening of the carnival episode is particularly impressive as a three minute long shot pans across all the major characters engaged in different activities and conversations, reminding us that each character remains hyperconnected, not only through their claustrophobic suburb but through the ever-present internet.
Social media haunts the show, revealing itself as a sometimes toxic yet completely instrumental part of the character’s lives. The dizzying scene transitions are particularly effective in conveying this snapshot lifestyle where instant messaging and instant gratification are as much a part of the teenage experience as going to school itself. Jules perhaps sums it up best in her plaintive sigh: “I don’t think I have an attention span for real life anymore.”
Overall, there is much that Euphoria has to offer over its eight episodes, but perhaps its strongest feature is its characters. Creator Sam Levinson does an excellent job of portraying them in a sympathetic way: all the characters suffer under the weight of a hyperconnected, post-9/11 world. However, the teenagers still take agency over this – they are not mere victims of oppressive systems, they manifest control and a deep cynical understanding of the world they are surviving in, and living in.
Euphoria is the breath of fresh air teen dramas desperately need and a show the world in 2019 desperately needs to see.
Image Credit: HBO – A24 Television via Wikipedia Commons