Euphoria Review: A New Age Representation of the High School Experience 


Emma Huggins, Staff Writer

I’m not going to lie–the first twenty minutes into Euphoria I had already made the decision that the show was going to be cliche and tacky, so I decided against it and turned off my TV. It took a couple of weeks and some convincing from friends for me to give it another try, which quite frankly was bound to happen considering it is an A24 production, a company with a cult following of which I am part of. After fully watching just the first episode, I was hooked, and now have seen the entire series twice and cannot stop talking about it. Euphoria, created by Sam Levinson, premiered on HBO on June 16, 2019, and follows the story of seventeen-year-old Rue, played by Zendaya, who is a drug-addicted teen fresh out of rehab, after overdosing the summer before. She returns to her high school, which is full of drama and tragedy. Rue experiences relapse of addiction and the effects it has on her relationships between family members and friends. She befriends Jules, played by Hunter Schafer, who is a new student exploring her sexuality and struggling with the world of online dating–which on one occasion results in statutory rape. There is the quintessential popular girl group that seems to rule the school and fall in love with the corresponding popular group of footballers. But where their story becomes distinguishable from other high school dramas is where each character is facing their own complex internal and external obstacles: Maddy is struggling with a domestically violent relationship with Nate, Cassie has a poor reputation regarding her sexual past, and Kat is finding her confidence and body positivity through sexuality. The show even calls for empathy for Nate, who should be the villain in this scenario, but who has anger issues trying to mask his sexual insecurities and troubled home life. 

More often than not, the media’s portrayal of our generation is full of stereotypes and romanticization of our struggles, continually missing the mark on what it truly feels like to be a teenager in this day and age. Shows like 13 Reasons Why and Riverdale make an accurate attempt to depict the high school experience with stories pertaining to relationships, mental health, drugs, violence, and trauma. Euphoria is different because it isn’t afraid to be messy and raw. Yes, many other high school dramas still contain similar content, but they do so in a way that still feels very Hollywood and artificial.  

Levinson does an incredible job creating characters who are more than just social-issue figures. The characters do struggle with mental illness and trauma, but they are more than just their mental illness and trauma, which is closer to real life. The show does a good job of conveying this type of realism that is so difficult to convey to 21st century high schoolers in a 21st-century high school drama. It’s easy to convey realism to me in a movie or show that takes place in the 1800s or is about war, because I do not live in the 1800s, nor have I fought in a war. But when a writer is trying to use realism in a production about something I’ve experienced, I am very critical of it not being realistic enough. I didn’t feel that way with Euphoria. With the exception of a few dramatizations, it all felt like real stories that could happen in real life, and the risk they took to convey this is so admirable. 

Where the plot falls short, which it doesn’t do often but inevitably does at times, the show makes up for it in it’s uniquely blunt and grasping cinematography and structure. Each shot seems to glimmer with enticement, oftentimes using lighting and hues as a way to set the tone for the scene. Euphoria follows a sort of structure, unlike any other show I’ve seen before. Each episode begins with a cold open telling the backstory of a different character. This is one of my favorite parts of the show because it fills in the gap that I think a lot of shows these days have.  Many shows explain the ‘how’ and ‘what’ of the characters, but often leave out the ‘why.’ These backstories had me glued to the screen the most out of all parts of the series. 

Something I want to make sure to give credit to is the incredible soundtrack, created by Labrinth. It features artists like Lizzo, Megan Thee Stallion, and Zendaya herself. Each song seems to elevate the scene so much, without doing the obvious. So many shows will fall into the trap of choosing obvious songs to go along with scenes, which always seems to come across as lazy. But I think Euphoria finds the perfect balance between choosing a song that is relevant to the scene, while still adding another aspect to the story. The series finale ends with a huge dance scene to ‘All For Us’ by Labrinth ft Zendaya. It’s the perfect cathartic and dramatic ending to a show full of euphoric moments.

Besides the kiss scene between Kat and love interest Ethan, the ending of season one leaves many of the characters in turmoil, left without any closure. However, HBO has confirmed a season two to be released in the future, but have not announced when that will be. I am very excited to see where season two takes all of these characters and whether it will be up to the standards season one set. It’s refreshing to see production companies taking risks as they did in Euphoria, and I hope that some more follow in the footsteps in creating pictures that can feel so personable. 

(Note: I highly recommend this show to anyone who is interested, but I would make sure to research the show’s content before watching as it does contain scenes and topics that may be triggering or disturbing to some.)