One of the latest TV series to come out of HBO, Euphoria made waves in the summer in America for its brazen representation of drug trauma and adolescent sex life. In the same vein as the Netflix productions 13 Reasons Why and Riverdale – an American high school drama set in a small suburban town, lit in dark, oversaturated colours – but it’s a cut above the former and leaps ahead of the latter. What makes this debut season so engaging is simply a product of the attention that has gone into it; the strong writing and great production value.
It doesn’t trump the best shows out there, but it is the only show I have had the impulse to rewatch instantly and that’s down to well-constructed, well-acted characters, the best being the character-narrator we follow, Rue, in a performance by Zendaya that simply elevates the quality of the show. Rue is a drug-abusing teen whose arc gives us insight into the dysfunctions and mental health concerns of her fellow students. She befriends the new student, Jules, in a gripping relationship that is packed with turmoil and emotionally invests you from episode one.
Euphoria tackles matters like depression, drug abuse, relationship insecurities and porn’s influence on people’s perception of sex, and does it honestly and unapologetically. Now, whilst it is unlikely to have all these characters in one small town – such as a sociopathic, closet-homosexual jock whose dad is also a closet-homosexual using a gay dating app; a body-conscious student who finds confidence on sex webcamming; a 17-year old drug addict fresh from rehab – we must remember that this is fiction, and it flirts with these boundaries to have a story filled with content, but content that provides examples of real identities and behaviour. The show hooks these onto strong acting and character arcs that make the story genuinely commendable and creates visually stunning TV.
It comes with the territory of the dramatised American high school genre that an English audience is susceptible to finding cringey at points, but that is left behind and forgotten in the shadow of a quality that is the hallmark of the HBO network. The well-acted Rue and Jules are the driving force and enable gripping moments of tension for these characters that punctuate every episode. There’s coercion in drug deals; meeting strangers in motels; the temptation for an addict to relapse – achieved in the writing but also fine camera work that shows this series hits both style and substance. Fluid cinematography that draws you out of and into the drama, keeping the pace fresh and the audience attuned in a visually stunning style that you don’t often find in TV, matched with sometimes surreal scene transitions and popping colours that gives a music video look to it. It can be a touch too much for everyone’s tastes, but you stay for the effort that has gone into this production that makes it a cut above other TV shows in its genre.
So far it seems it doesn’t have the buzz it deserves in the UK or if it was a Netflix original, but this is a series you will binge not wondering if there is something better you could be watching, and be frustrated waiting for season two after the tense final minutes you’re left on.