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HBO’s dark teen drama: ‘Euphoria’

| Wednesday, August 28, 2019

Diane Park | The Observer

Most teen dramas follow a fairly similar and predictable pattern. A group of teenagers, almost always in high school — some of them friends, some of them enemies — go through a series of twists and turns, ups and downs, relationships and break-ups, lies and deceit. At the end of the season, there’s a homecoming dance, a prom, a cotillion or some other event to gather all of the characters into one place where all of the drama can come to a head, where the boyfriend will be exposed for his cheating ways, where the shy girl will win prom queen and where the boy and the girl meant for each other will finally kiss. 

“Euphoria,” HBO’s new hit summer series, takes the characteristics of a typical teen drama and ramps them up to 11. Instead of your run-of-the-mill teen problems, the show features the darker struggles some teens are forced to grapple with, like drug addiction, abusive relationships, sex tapes, black mail, absentee parents and unplanned pregnancies. It holds nothing back in depicting the violence and sex, making it a show which viewers with an aversion to on-screen nudity or uncomfortable situations will have to pass on. Despite the overwhelmingly dark issues in the show, “Euphoria” isn’t completely depressing. It finds moments of joy in the characters navigating the choppy waters of life and tells their stories with artistic flair.

The show’s main character is Rue, played convincingly by Zendaya. Having graduated from the innocent MJ of the new “Spider-Man” series and a long way from Rocky of Disney Channel’s “Shake It Up,” Zendaya inhabits Rue, a high school junior who struggles with a serious drug addiction, a slew of mental health problems and a first love. As she fights daily battles with her own addiction, she falls for the new girl in town, Hunter Schafer in her debut role as Jules. The growth of their friendship and relationship, not to mention their stylish makeup, is fun to watch and a bright spot in the show.

The cast of supporting characters, each dealing with their own problems, fills out the rest of the show and adds complications and seriously dark drama to Rue and Jules’ relationship. No character is more endearing than Fezco, or Fez, Rue’s soft-spoken drug dealer, played by Angus Cloud in his debut role. Cloud, who was pulled off the street to audition and bears a striking resemblance to the late Mac Miller, does well as the complex Fez, who transitions from Rue’s dealer to protector in a heart wrenching scene in episode three.

“Euphoria” not only depicts the lives of Gen-Z teens, but it’s very Gen-Z in the way it tells its story, ditching traditional television storytelling methods and favoring visual spectacle over plot. There are a number of beautiful shots and sequences, like episode four’s nighttime bike ride scene or episode seven’s strobing, rave dance scene, all set to music from the show’s noteworthy soundtrack, which features the likes of Billie Eillish, JID and Arca. The season finale includes an elaborate and engrossing musical number which proves to be both moving and jarring. 

However, the finale also reveals the show’s weak spot. Relying too heavily on aesthetic, “Euphoria” sacrifices narrative coherence and fulfillment. The rollercoaster that is the first season ends on a flat note, without the climax it deserves or any satisfying conclusions to the main storylines. But that doesn’t mean the rollercoaster isn’t worth riding.

“Euphoria” is far from over, with HBO renewing it for a second season after only episode four. And with the fervor, star power and controversy surrounding the debut season, you’d best take the ride that is season one as soon as you can. 

Show: “Euphoria” Season One

Starring: Zendaya, Hunter Schafer, Jacob Elordi

Favorite episodes: “Made You Look,” “Shook Ones Pt. II,” “The Trials and Tribulations of Trying to Pee While Depressed”

If you like: “Gossip Girl,” “13 Reasons Why” 

Where to watch: HBO

Shamrocks: 4 out of 5

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About Ryan Israel

Ryan's favorite album is "Blonde" by Frank Ocean and his favorite movie is "Dazed and Confused." He's also a junior double majoring in Sociology and Television, but that's not as important. Follow Ryan on Twitter @ryizzy.

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