“Euphoria” Season 1 (2019): Intimacy and artifice in one fantastic package

In a market full of melodramatic schlock, this show is a brilliant diamond in the rough


Image courtesy of IMDb

The two charismatic leads, Zendaya (on the left) and Hunter Schafer (on the right), embracing at a very purple party.

Max Vetter, Entertainment Reporter

One of the most common trappings of contemporary teenage dramas of any sort is that the people behind it strive for a sort of realism that they, with their many years and complete lack of awareness of youth culture, have no hope of ever really tapping into. This happens so much it’s almost a genre in and of itself, with its most infamous entry being the loathsome “Thirteen Reasons Why” (2017-2020). Of course, the reason I’m talking about “Euphoria” is because it’s different. Instead of trying to capture the high school experience with a photographic realism, it instead attempts to portray it with raw, emotional realism. Well, it succeeds.

“Euphoria” follows Rue Bennet, a recovering drug addict coping with various mental issues, interpersonal drama, and the many difficulties of high school life. That seems a bit reductive, though, because the series seems to be just as much about Jules Vaughn, a trans girl whom Rue immediately takes a fancy to after she (Jules) moves into the neighborhood. While the relationship between the two leading ladies is the emotional core of the series, it still isn’t completely the focus. Jules’ story is inexorably tied to the Jacobs family for reasons I will not spoil (partially because I doubt I could say them here). The Jacobs family, in turn, is connected to Maddie Perez, who is friends with seemingly every girl in the school. These chains of connections vary in complexity and positivity, but what doesn’t vary is the level of detail. 

“Euphoria” is a masterclass in horizontal narrative momentum. Each episode bounces between the main characters and just about all of the supporting cast without ever sacrificing the lightning fast pace. Each member of the cast is fully realized in ways I don’t think I’ve ever seen before in a high school drama, which is especially impressive because this show gets dark fast. Each character has hang ups regarding a whole host of things, whether it be addiction, sex, personal perception, public image, abuse, or whatever else might plague them. It’s very easy to screw this kind of show up, whether it be by turning each character into a laundry list of issues or just not having the emotional intelligence to understand how these characters think, but “Euphoria” doesn’t fall into this trap by making some very clever decisions.

On its own, I don’t think the writing in this show could carry the series. Don’t get me wrong, the characters are brilliant, and the cast – especially Zendaya (Rue) and Hunter Schafer (Jules) – does a magnificent job portraying them, but the story by itself would seem really campy and over-the-top under different direction. Luckily for us, the show’s presentation is perfectly suited for the story. The visuals of this show feel like a drug-addled nightmare. The camera moves like a love child of Damien Chazelle and Gaspar Noé, constantly dollying and zooming with a frenetic energy you rarely see in television. Along with that, the colors of the show, whether from external light or the costumes, are moody and energetic in ways that perfectly suit each scene. The editing is some of the best I’ve seen in television, with a clear understanding of how long each shot has to last in order to capture an emotion. All of this culminates in one of the most immaculately realized artistic visions I’ve ever seen on television, with some scenes capturing a hypnotic intimacy I’ve seen portrayed nowhere else.

Is “Euphoria” perfect? No, I wouldn’t say so. But it is loud, and that’s exactly what it needed to be. It’s such an intimate and personal look at the current youth that, while you hopefully don’t relate to certain aspects of certain characters, it’s nearly impossible that you won’t find yourself staring at someone eerily similar to you on screen, even in the shortest moments. “Euphoria” has just released its two best episodes to date, which is all the more incentive to check it out immediately. Please see it on HBO Max; you’re missing out if you don’t.