'Euphoria' - Review
by Ruhi Quraishi
You’ve probably heard of HBO’s new show Euphoria. The series follows a group of high school students anxiously navigating their identity and place in the world. The show has sparked major controversy, but, I think this is where its popularity lies. Euphoria touches on almost every societal issue you can think of; addiction, sex, drugs and abuse. These are subjects rarely portrayed so clearly in such popular mediums as prime time television.
We begin by following 17 year old rehabilitated Rue (Zendaya) recovering from a drug addiction to what her mother is hoping is a fresh start. Rue, our narrator, quickly informs us that this is will not be the case and falls back into a cycle of drug use and chasing her euphoria. On her journey we are introduced to another main character Jules (Hunter Schafer) the new girl in town who forms a close relationship with Rue immediately. As the two connect and bond we learn more about Jules including the fact that she transitioned to be a girl when she was younger.
One thing I liked about Euphoria is that there are no labels. Jules was not just seen as “that trans girl”, it was just one element of her character. She was able to express herself without any constraints. She was allowed to have different elements of her personality and life portrayed before we learn that she is transgender. This allowed the show to have an interesting and appealing foundation for the characters.
I also enjoyed the way in which the series is structured with each episode being dedicated to a character and carefully delving into their background and past. With Rue narrating through this it becomes an explanation for why the characters are the way they are from an objective perspective. Even though Rue is the protagonist, each individual has a similar amount of detail as her character, emphasising the importance of each of their backstory. There is so much detail written about the characters from early childhood and their family relationships to how they are currently. As you progress through each episode you begin to empathise with their situations and see there is much more to them than appears at first.
Much is conveyed about the upbringing of teenagers and more often than not we see their feelings being dismissed and labelled as juvenile or exaggerative. The struggles these teenagers go through are complex and are worth portraying as they are realistic. The insecurities and anxieties shown throughout reflect the existential crisis that many children experience during school life. Young people are often criticised and are not given a huge amount of sympathy. This show goes some way in creating an instance where older generations can understand the emotions and thought process of these adolescents in a compassionate way.
Just as you discover more about the characters you’ll also learn more about the actors. In an interview with Zendaya, director of Euphoria Sam Levinson explains how personal the show is and the way in which each of the characters contain traits that he finds in himself especially regarding Rue and Jules’s journey. Levinson suffered with a drug addiction in his early teenage years and specifically wrote Rue to mirror his own experiences. Everything you see, from Rue’s monologues to the AA meetings, is so powerful in its own right because of the fact that it has come from someone who has lived through it and sought to portray it. Many of the cast members also brought elements of their own personal lives into their characters especially Hunter Schafer. As a transwoman Hunter brought her own experiences to the character of Jules and assisted Levinson in the writing for her storyline. Not only is this representation for the transgender community significant but also the fact that it is authentic.
One of the most notable and talked about aspects of the show is the makeup. It’s no exaggeration to say that this show has birthed a whole new makeup obsession with thousands of people posting their recreations onto Instagram. Makeup artists Donniella Davy and Kirin Rider created each look with the intention to portray the emotions and feelings of that character at that time. Throughout the series the characters change their makeup looks as much as they change their outfits which I found to be refreshing as opposed to characters having the same makeup in every scene and episode. The makeup tells us about each character as a form of their self-expression and who they want to be that day. The makeup adjusts through character developments and the character’s changing attitude towards reality. The realisations that they need to change aspects of their lives and how they present themselves reflects physically as well as mentally. Although these looks all have a clear intention and meaning behind them the makeup is not designed to be taken too seriously, like conventional film set make up, and can be something you can randomly create in your bedroom. If you have already seen the show and are interested in the creations you can check out detailed explanations for each makeup look on the artists’ Instagram pages (@donnie.davy and @kirinrider).
With Drake as a producer of the show there was no doubt that there would be an incredible variety of music as well as many pop culture references. One of my favourite being that most of the episodes are titles of rap songs: “03 Bonnie and Clyde”, “Shook Ones: Pt II”, “The Next Episode”. I loved this addition mainly because I listen to these songs but also the fact that labelling them numerically would have been remarkably boring in comparison to the exuberant nature of the show. Using current and popular rap and r’n’b music resonates with this generation and I felt more connected to the show when I heard these songs playing in the background. It was almost like listening to a personalised Spotify playlist every episode.
Up to this point you could argue the show seems too good to be true. However, amongst all the positive reactions to the show many have criticised this series for being extremely explicit especially concerning the young age group that the show has attracted. That being said the show is careful not to glamorise this with many of the characters facing unfortunate outcomes as a result. The actions of the characters are not admirable and at times hard to watch as we see their lives spiral into chaos. The explicit themes are also not shown purely for shock value as each topic is handled with sensitivity and understanding of how serious they are.
All in all, I loved Euphoria. The content is so honest and raw with very little being censored or shied away from. All the creative elements of the show allow it to be enjoyable and entertaining whilst the significant underlying messages are always present.