In June of 2019, HBO came out with a new show titled Euphoria. The show is centered around high school student Rue, played by Zendaya, and follows her and the other students’ lives. Each episode focuses on a different character and how they manage love, drug abuse, partying, their identity, and family issues. Euphoria is a beautiful show that brings awareness to the dangers of drugs, the struggle of identifying yourself and your sexuality, and home issues. However, this was not translated well and was labeled early on as an extremely controversial and inappropriate show. Many people in the entertainment industry viewed the show as too vulgar and raunchy for high school-aged characters, but it just proves how much the above issues are not talked about. It is true that this show is definitely not fit for a family movie night; however, it has brought community and comfort to many people and shows the honest side of many issues young people face in today’s world.
One of the reasons this show is so powerful is because it is based off of the creator Sam Levinson’s life. Levinson was a young drug addict and hoped to make raw art as a way of bringing awareness to these issues. This show follows the stages of a person, especially of one in high school, going through drug abuse. When it first aired, there was a lot of chat in the entertainment industry about how it was too inappropriate for teenagers, but what they were not understanding is that this is how a lot of their children, neighbors, nieces, etc. live. In an article with Entertainment Weekly, Levinson states “But, I feel like this is a debate that goes on constantly throughout time, where people go, ‘Parents are gonna be scared,’ and you go ‘Yeah.’ And young people will be like, ‘Yeah, that’s my life.’ I’m sure certain people will be freaked out by it and other people will relate to it” (qtd. in Stack). He understood the risk of backlash going into it but stood strong with his power and carried on. This show mainly got its risqué reputation based on scenes of graphic sexual intercourse, drug and alcohol use, and violence, with an emphasis on the family life and high school relationships. With this being said, the importance of the show has not gone unnoticed. In an article for Andscape, Soraya Nadia McDonald says “Moreover, I’m hoping that folks can see past the condemnations of its nudity and drug use, which are really unfulfilling escapes from the Age of Anxiety and a societal mess that’s been decades in the making.” It is comforting to know that Levinson’s story is appreciated by many and that his struggles and strength have not been looked over.
While the controversy is centered around the explicit content, it is mainly because of the age of the characters. At the end of the day, people could really care less about seeing nudity and drugs on an NC-17-rated show. However, the thought of it being based in a traditional high school, with normal people, makes the reality hit harder. “What’s equally fascinating and disturbing about Euphoria is that it’s not set in a vaguely medieval universe full of giants, dragons, and ice zombies. Its purview is suburban America, right now, and it’s not a pretty sight” (McDonald). The thought of this being the reality for high school students is very alarming to older adults. Rest assured though, the entire cast with an exception to one is in their twenties or older. The casting of this show, done by Mary Vernieu and Jessica Kelly, truly might be one of its best assets. They have a mix of known actors such as Eric Dane and Zendaya, but also got to bring in completely fresh faces like Hunter Schafer and Angus Cloud. This made the performances extra real and enticing. Regarding the role of Jules, Mary Vernieu said “Casting that one was extra scary, because these were not people trained at all as actors … Hunter came in and won it in the room in a beautiful way.” (qtd. in Thompson). The casting team put their heart and soul into finding the perfect people for these roles and did so flawlessly.
Euphoria’s fan base is a very diverse audience. Some audience members consist of people in the LGBTQ community who resonate with Jules and Nate, teens who love the “party/rave vibe,” people going through their own story with drug abuse, and people who genuinely love the art of this show. In an article from Good Morning America, they inserted a quote from Zendaya saying “It’s a raw and honest portrait of addiction, anxiety and the difficulties of navigating life today …. Please only watch if you feel you can handle it. Do what’s best for you. I will still love you and feel your support” (qtd. in Messer). This was a great way for Zendaya to get her younger fan base interested in the show if they are mature enough, but also respectful of her to warn them about the explicit writing due to her early start on The Disney Channel. In an interview with Entertainment Weekly, Sydney Sweeney who plays Cassie on the show states “I hope that people watch it and either they learn, or they know that they’re not alone, and it also raises awareness of different situations that are happening” (qtd. in Jones). Pleasing their fan base is a big deal for the creative team and actors because of the amount of work and heart they have put into their roles.
It is so powerful to see such a gritty and genuine show like Euphoria with such a stellar cast. Shows like this keep Hollywood inclusive and supportive which is undeniably what the world needs right now. Even for people who do not have a personal connection to the show, it has still had a huge impact. Social media is constantly flooded with “Euphoria-themed parties” with hair, make up, decorations, etc. that is inspired from the show. Though the show is on the raunchier side, having a younger fan base is actually a blessing in disguise due to the awareness it is bringing to many different communities and people with struggles they may not even be fully aware of yet.
Jones, Marcus. “Euphoria Actress Sydney Sweeney on How Cassie Has to ‘Learn to Love Herself’.” Entertainment Weekly, 29 July 2019, www.ew.com/tv/2019/07/29/euphoria-sydney-sweeney-cassie-interview/.
McDonald, Soraya Nadia. “HBO’s Euphoria Is Awash in Teen Nudity, Drugs and Sex. But Listen to What It Has to Say.” Andscape, 14 June 2019, https://andscape.com/features/hbos-euphoria-is-awash-in-teen-nudity-drugs-and-sex-but-listen-to-what-it-has-to-say/.
Messer, Lesley.” Euphoria: 5 things to tnow about TV’s most talked about new show.” Good Morning America. 18 June 2019, www.goodmorningamerica.com/culture/story/euphoria-things-tvs-talked-show-63769327.
Stack, Tim. “Euphoria creator Sam Levinson on his controversial show: ‘I hope it opens up a dialogue’.” Entertainment Weekly, 16 June 2019, www.ew.com/tv/2019/06/16/euphoria-creator-sam-levinson/.
Thompson, Anne. ‘”Euphoria’: How the Casting Directors Discovered So Many Blazing Breakout Talents.” IndieWire, 30 July 2019, www.indiewire.com/2019/07/euphoria-casting-directors-discover-zendaya-angus-cloudhunter-schafer-new-stars-1202161635/.