Why I love "euphoria"
Today, I did a little bit of work, and a whole lot of nothing. Well, not nothing — I've gotten hooked on HBO's euphoria, created by Sam Levinson and starring a fantastic ensemble of young actors, including Zendaya as the lead. I've always been fond of coming-of-age stories that look at the darker side of high school life — Netflix's Sex Education is a great example, and what I've seen of the first season of Skins also handles the subject with humor and heart. But none have gripped me like euphoria, and I can't put my finger on what it is that has grabbed me. So this is me, in real time, trying to sort out my intense addiction to this show... a show that deals with addiction.
It is definitely the best-looking piece of television I have ever seen. I think what really impresses me, however, is the writing. The creator has not directed too many movies, but I was impressed with Malcolm & Marie, the first major project (to my knowledge) filmed after Covid-19 lockdowns. The movie also starred Zendaya as a young woman who had overcome addiction (hey, that sounds familiar!). Clearly the writer/director knows his wheelhouse, but euphoria is WILDLY different in its scale. Where Malcolm & Marie was very contained to its two actors (by design, for safety reasons), euphoria handles a large cast of nuanced characters with flair. Similar shows, like Sex Education, sometimes feel bloated because there are too many storylines to keep track of. In shows like this, there are often only 1 or 2 characters we really connect with deeply, and the rest of each episode can feel like filler or fluff. Four 1/2 episodes into euphoria, I have not felt this way at all.
Each episode begins with a "prologue" that highlights one character's backstory, and the rest of the episode seamlessly integrates that backstory into the present-day plot. While there are definitely "A" and "B" stories that take up the most screentime, I am genuinely invested in each relationship the show presents me.
I think a big part of what keeps me invested is the way the show keeps you guessing. I don't want to give things away, because I want as many people who read this to give the show a chance. But I will say this: some characters, who initially come off as clear-cut "villains," are given just one or two scenes that are so strong and shocking, your entire opinion about them shifts. The "good" ones aren't always so good, and the "bad" ones aren't always so bad. It almost feels like a writer is personally assigned to each character, meticulously mapping out their development in ways that are meaningful, while always keeping the audience guessing. But with so many characters and so many intercrossing relationships, it is a marvel the show never feels overstuffed.
Stylistically, euphoria has a totally unique look and sound. In the pilot, there is a sequence where Zendaya's character walks down a hall spinning around her, while she remains upright — reminiscent of this fight scene in Christopher Nolan's Inception.
The music is also incredible. Labrinth is responsible for composing the show's score, which is made up of haunting wails interspersed with beautiful synth chords. A lot of the show's music is hip-hop and pop, much of which is infused with the score, or even distorted to reflect a character's intoxicated state of mind. It is atmospheric, beautiful, and even disturbing.
euphoria deals with intense drug use, sexual situations, violence, mental illness, and other serious topics, all among underage characters who are still in high school. It is not for the faint of heart, and it is certainly not a show for everybody. It can be deeply upsetting and troubling at times, but so far, I have found even the darkest narratives to be captivating and cathartic.
My high school experience was nothing like this, but I still connect to the characters in ways I can't quite put my finger on. If you are looking for a new dramatic show to binge, I recommend you check out euphoria on HBO!