HBO is known for producing quality entertainment: Game of Thrones, The Sopranos, and — more recently — Chernobyl are all watched by millions. This summer, right at the end of the school term in many countries, HBO released Euphoria — a captivating representation of a troubled teenager’s life that was called “the most shocking teen show ever” by The Guardian — which sparked online debate about its graphic content. I’ve seen it too, and I found it absolutely fantastic. In fact, it is more than just a show; it is a direct cultural punch in the style of 13 Reasons Why.
As someone who has watched many teen-related series, I have to say Euphoria is well worth the hype. What makes this show special is how unapologetically concentrated it is; the main character Rue is a teenage drug addict whose trans best friend Jules slept with the high school jock’s father. If the last sentence was too much for you, be aware that it doesn’t even begin to cover it. Legend says an ajumma fainted after watching one minute of the show.
Euphoria is more than an exaggeration of teen problems; even though it is unrealistic, it is extremely relatable. It takes all the unconventionality of a Western teenager’s life and amplifies it with amazing cinematography to the point that you start questioning your perception of these problems. Unlike 13 Reasons Why, which deals with suicides, school shootings, and extreme bullying — phenomena that are quite uncommon and disturbing — Euphoria deals with arguably more down-to-earth issues, including taking drugs, exploring one’s sexuality, dealing with insecurities, and having a relationship. Individually, each of the show’s themes seem quite ordinary.
Euphoria has drawn criticism because it focuses on the “teen drama” that everybody is fed up with. That is, to many, the problems that teens nowadays deal with are extremely superficial, and through exaggeration, the show just makes them more unpalatable. However, Euphoria’s coverage of so many small aspects at once is precisely how it highlights the confusing nature of teenage life. Perhaps these issues do not seem that important to some, but many of today’s teenagers suffer due to relationships, family situations, and the school environment. Teens do want to explore their own bodies and identities, and some do take drugs. The latter part of the show is particularly poignant because it deals with the impacts of addiction and shows Rue’s transformation. The series is not a parable with a direct message of immorality or legality; instead, it directly shows how taking drugs can impact a young life.
Overall, Euphoria delivers quality cinematography along with a huge dose of “this is teen life” — but without the associated judgement. It seems to me that the characters behave as they do not because they are given too much freedom, but because they want to pursue happiness even without understanding it. For Jules, happiness is finding a perfect partner. For Rue, happiness is a drug-induced euphoria. What does happiness mean to you?