"Euphoria" Review: A look at teen life through a glittery lens

Updated: Jun 2, 2020

This HBO drama examines the harsh reality of drug addiction and mental illness with a captivating dreamy aesthetic. 

By Cesia Lopez, Staff Writer

HBO show “Euphoria” mesmerizes its audience into its glittery and meticulously crafted world with a playful, dreamy quality that includes a variety of traumatic, soul-crushing depictions of addiction, loss, mental illness and abuse, all through an empathetic lens of the modern day youth.

Writer, director and creator of the American series, 34-year-old Sam Levinson (“Assasination Nation”), revealed in interviews that “Euphoria” is extremely personal for him because so much of the story is directly from his life, including his battles with drug addiction.

Former Disney star Zendaya charismatically and heartbreakingly carries the story as Rue, a 17-year-old addict returning from a summer spent in rehab. She highlights her life struggle with severe anxiety and depression as she guides us through the story as a first-person and omniscient narrator.

“Euphoria” follows a diverse group of teens navigating the high-anxiety, social media driven world today, making questionable decisions about who to be and how to love. The show provides an idea of how the characters came to be who they are through childhood vignettes — revealing the root of their insecurities and influences in a way that validates them as individuals, empathizes with their experiences and does not try to pack them away in neat archetypal boxes.

The show does an incredible job at responsibly portraying things like drug abuse along with its consequences and accurately represents the obsessive manic highs and the grossest lows of depression without glamorizing these very sensitive topics in a way that so many other dark and chaotic teen dramas fail and dangerously end up romanticizing. 

One of the most beautiful things about the aesthetically rich show is that it doesn’t rush to pin labels on characters or on their sexual and gender identities. This can be best seen in Rue’s relationship with her new best friend, Jules. Whimsically played by breakout actress Hunter Schafer, Jules is a transgender girl who is new to town and plays a big role in Rue’s sobriety. They immediately form a magnetic connection bordering on romance. 

Jules’ story doesn’t focus on her being trans; in fact, it’s hardly mentioned in the show. It was refreshing to experience Jules explore her identity and what it means for her to be a woman, just like any other teenage girl.

It is also no surprise that the show was produced in partnership with A24, known for their emotive cinematography (“Moonlight”, “Lady Bird”), when every episode is so artistically courageous in its crafting, and every scene — whether it be with its kinetic pacing, clever transitions, or dynamic visuals — is meant to make you feel the intensity and simultaneous anxiety that comes with experiencing any emotion in adolescence. 

Shows about teens, made by adults, are more often than not palpably disingenuous, but with “Euphoria” you can feel the authenticity behind each character. There are countless interviews with the talentedly cast leads emphasizing how collaborative the filming environment was and being given artistic freedom to develop their characters and weave in bits of themselves.

It is probably for the best that this show, following the lives of Gen-Z teens, is made for adults as there is plenty of parental shock value to it. It seems like the kind of show you watch after you’ve survived your adolescence, not while you’re still in the heat of it all; although it could definitely be empowering and used as an educational discussion starter for what-not-to-do. If anything, the trigger warnings before each episode should not be taken lightly. It is definitely not a show for the faint of heart or prudishly abashed as the amount of nudity is, well, generous. 

Despite all its harrowing depictions, viewers can still find themselves getting lost in the music, the glitter, and in all the iconic outfits and make-up guaranteed to inspire some amazing costume renditions this upcoming Halloween. 

The emotion that drives the show feels timelessly relatable and can definitely be triggering at times, but overall is empowering and cathartic to those who have had a chaotic youth.

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