One evening I was channel surfing the HBO channels and saw the first episode of Euphoria‘s second season playing. Since I heard it was Leonardo DiCaprio’s favorite new television series, I went on HBOmax and watched the season 2 premiere episode from the beginning. With no idea what happened in the first season, no knowledge of who the characters were — other than the current MJ from the new Spider-man franchise (Zendaya) being in it — I was introduced to a tale that could make all the characters in The Sopranos cringe. And I don’t mean in a bad way.
The first scene I watch is of veteran actor Kathrine Narducci, playing a blonde, stepping out of a 1970s convertible, casually holding a pistol in one hand. The camera follows her as she’s immediately allowed into a strip club by security. The big guy even opens the door for her as a real gentleman should. As she walks through the strip club, making a bee-line for the owner’s office, patrons and the performers look over at her like they know her, see the gun, and then go back to what they were watching and doing as if they know what to expect from Narducci’s character. As soon as she crossed that threshold into the owner’s office, she yells, “HEY, F*** FACE!”
In that one moment of raw violence, and a vivid simulation of a sexual act right before it, Euphoria showed me it did not hold back with its honest artistic depiction of its subject matter. Though the moment involved adults, the entire first season depicting equally immoral acts involve teenagers. The show has been met with criticism by leaders of the D.A.R.E. program for apparently “glamorizing” drug use, the consumption of alcohol, sex, and violence involving high school teenagers. It’s a criticism that brings me back to Danny Boyle’s 1996 film Trainspotting, starring Ewan McGregor pre-Obi-wan Kenobi. That film was criticized by conservative politicians running for the office for “glamorizing” the lifestyle of heroin addicts. Later, the same politicians admitted to never actually watching the movie, because if they did, they would have seen a nearly two-hour anti-drug ad with excellent acting, and highly stylized directing by Danny Boyle. Does anyone remember the dead baby crawling on the ceiling when Ewan McGregor’s character is going through withdrawals? It’s an infamous scene so simple, yet disturbing enough for the audience to experience that it’s cemented in their memory for good reason: don’t touch heroin.
The D.A.R.E. program leaders must have only seen clips of Euphoria without proper context. At the end of season one, after Rue has relapsed, there is a stylized musical dance sequence the actor Zendaya performs that looks beautiful. It’s a delusional sequence that’s all inside the character’s fractured mind. She is not only a drug addict but suffers from Bipolar Disorder. And if there are two things in this world that don’t mix well at all, it is illicit drug use and any of the mental health disorders human beings go through.
Euphoria does not entirely have to do with drug use, there are aspects of the American High School experience that are explored with other characters. One is Nate, played by Jacob Elordi, who is an atypical jock on the outside, but inside that head, some complex emotions are going on. Some might feel he has some sociopathic tendencies, but there are secrets he’s withholding from everyone which may result in some dire consequences. His girlfriend Maddy, played by Alexa Demie, is unique in her way of attempting to maintain control over him that can be emotionally destructive not only to Nate but to many of her friends as well.
The character Kat Hernandez, played brilliantly by Barbie Ferreira, who may have some body image issues is one of the most unique people in the show. Privately she’s an anonymous romance author on a blog website with over fifty thousand followers and does cam girl work as a side hustle for unsuspecting men who don’t realize the person they’re watching is underage. That’s a secret that could damage her and them in a big way. Too bad in Season 2 of Euphoria her character hasn’t really been explored, other than a scene where she questions whether or not she can love her boyfriend Ethan at all, if ever.
No character seems happy in this show — adults or kids. And almost none of them are really living normal lives, or have normal attitudes towards wanting to live it …. normally. Everything for them is just complicated, but that’s what makes a good show like Euphoria. I, myself, have been around people like the characters in Euphoria, and while growing up in the late ’90s and 2000s, I tried my best to avoid them. That was until I grew to my twenties, and got to know them. (As well as becoming one of them at one point.) Shows like Euphoria — that especially take themselves seriously — are important for the public to experience, if they’re mature enough, that is. It is not a show for teenagers to watch alone, but with their mature parents. It’s a show meant to spark conversations between parents and the teenager they’re raising. Well, Euphoria‘s honesty might teach a parent about what their teenager might experience growing up in the 21st century.
Surprisingly, there are two characters who I find the most normal, yet they’re polar opposites: Lex (played by Maude Apatow) and Fezco (played by Angus Cloud). Lex is probably the only main character with no problems of her own, other than having a bit of an inner turmoil about not speaking up when she should. Fezco is a drug dealer, yes, but is fully in control of his situation, and at least questions his own actions by preparing and most likely planning for the worst. I hope these two end up saving each other from the chaotic world depicted in the show.
Zendaya won an Emmy for her performance in the first season as Rue. After watching Episode 5 of Season 2, it looks like she’s going to get another one. It’s the best anti-drug performance I’ve seen an actor perform in a long time, especially from someone as young as Zendaya. Though the series is a loose remake of an Israeli show of the same name, the American version creator, Sam Levinson based Rue on his own experience with drug addiction in his teenage years. So it’s not surprising how well she portrays how physically and spiritually damaging drug addiction truly is.
One important highlight of the show that I feel is not talked about enough is actor Eric Dane, who portrays Nate’s father, Cal Jacobs, a character with a typical outward appearance of a strong, straight male, but keeps a secret that is damaging to his vulnerable family. When one expects him to act evil in a scene with Jules (Hunter Schafer) in Season 1, his face transforms into that of a scared, empathetic human being, basically holding his hands up, pleading for her to keep silent. It is not revealed until the second season why he acts this way. He represents people in this world who act in a way that everyone expects, but when it’s all a lie, it might as well be a soulless practice in self-degradation.
I believe D.A.R.E.’s criticisms of the show are exactly the strengths of Euphoria’s way of telling its story: there’s a surface layer to all the characters, a kind of veil each one holds up to their world, and only reveal what’s behind it to the audience. Their secrets are painful to keep, and when they’re unveiled to unsuspecting friends, the consequences are only as bad as their reasons for keeping them.
It’s good that I watched the first episode of the second season first because it pulled me in and got me hooked immediately. I just hope Kathrine Narducci comes back as Fezco’s Grandma in flashbacks, because as Rue says, “Fezco’s Grandma was a m*********ing G.”
So I recommend no one listen to D.A.R.E. when it comes to works of art like Euphoria, because like what Trainspotting did in the mid-’90s, it’ll keep you off drugs, kids. But if you’re under the age of eighteen, get your parent’s permission, because they’ll get the popcorn ready before sitting right next to you.