Euphoria, a revolutionary show that follows the highs and lows of modern day high schoolers

Zendaya stars in a show that explores teen themes, but is it appropriate for teen viewers?


HBO Promotional Poster

Euphoria is a show that has done an amazing job portraying the struggles that teens in high school experience, while also showing accurate and in-depth representations of hard hitting topics from abortion to addiction. While it has been credited for being a groundbreaking show, it is still a victim of the immense sexualization of teenage characters as well as a lack of racial diversity.

Euphoria is a show created and directed by Sam Levinson. The show is an adaptation of the 2012 Israeli show also titled Euphoria. Levinson and executive producers at HBO appreciated the raw portrayal of addiction and drug use in the Israeli show and decided to make a show for American audiences. Levinson used his own experiences with anxiety, depression, and substance abuse as inspiration while writing the show.

After months of casting and production, the show first premiered on June 16, 2019 and released 8 episodes as a part of the first season. Two special episodes centered around the characters Rue (played by Zendaya) and Jules (played by Hunter Schafer) were also created. Season 2 premiered on January 9, 2022 and is set to have 10 episodes. The show created a great buzz with its casting choices and raw high school portrayal and was therefore nominated for numerous awards for best makeup, best cinematography and even best actress in a drama series which Zendaya won at the Golden Globes, making her the youngest woman to win such an award.

Euphoria is a show centering around 8 central characters all told from the perspective of Rue, a teenage girl who struggles with severe drug addiction and who recently went to rehab after a near fatal drug overdose. The story follows the lives of a group of high school students who interact with one another while also grappeling with issues like identity, trauma, drugs, friendships, love, violence, and sex.

The cinematography, wardrobe, and makeup in this show along with the acting really made this show stand out from the rest. The iconic wardrobe and makeup that was tailored to fit the personalities of each of the characters made them more personable and realistic, but also told a story of their own as the characters progressed throughout the season. Head makeup artist Doniella Davy worked with costume designer Heidi Bivens and Marcell Rev to create looks that were tailored to the mood and scenario of each scene. Different glitters and fabrics along with different aesthetics were used to highlight the emotions of the characters. Rev worked to create different lightings and different uses of camera work to really show the thought process of Rue while she was high. It created a storyline of it’s own that hooked audiences and created a cohesive work of art.

This show can be compared to numerous other shows about teens in high school like Riverdale due to it’s gritty and dark themes. It is however most comparable to the 2007 hit drama series Skins. Both these shows take on very controversial topics like substance abuse, mental illness, and teen pregnancy that have revolutionized drama viewership for teens. Both of these shows have a mature audience rating though the show centers around teens in high school. What makes Euphoria stand out however is its ability to accurately portray many difficult topics without glamorizing them. The writers really made an effort to make these stories sound realistic and personable to each character rather than making it sound like an effort to be relatable.

The raw portrayal of mental health using cinematography and acting has been able to show how individuals with bipolar disorder act and the struggles that they may need to overcome. The manic and depressive periods that individuals with bipolar disorder experience are artfully shown through interesting lighting choices and quick camera movements. Zendaya is able to show her full acting range by showing the differences between manic and depressive phases of Rue’s character. I would like to say that I don’t have any experience with bipolar disorder first hand so I can’t speak to the accuracy of the portrayal, but I can speak to the fact that there wasn’t any glamorizatiation of the disorder.

Rue’s battle with drug addiction is portrayed as very raw and seemingly accurate. The show shows why she was addicted and how she sobers up but has trouble staying sober due to unhealthy attachments. The writers did a good job showing how the drugs have become a part of her personality and who she is and how she is having a hard time letting go even though everyone wants her too and she has every opportunity to do so. They created fleshed out characters that allowed audiences to form attachments with.

The portrayal of LGBTQ stories is both accurate and natural. Many shows of this age try too hard to provide LGBTQ representation and fail to give characters any background or characteristics besides being a part of the LGBTQ community. However, Euphoria was able to create full rounded characters who happen to be gay or trans instead of creating characters solely for the purpose of having “diversity”. In interviews Sam Levinson and Hunter Schafer, who plays Jules, a trans character, have talked about collaborating with one another to create an authentic trans story. Hunter Schafer, who is a trans woman, helped to create a story that talked about trans issues and identity. She covers topics like male validation and the struggle of being a trans and queer women and how that effects her characters motives and beliefs.

Although Euphoria portrays a variety of different identities and issues, the show doesn’t provide racial diversity or stories in its writing or cast . The show is made up of predominantly light skinned Hispanics and black people as well as white people. The show doesn’t involve any stories about race nor does it provide any dark skinned people who are a part of the primary cast.

Unfortunately, in efforts to make Euphoria seem raw, there is nudity present on the show. Although the rating of the show is mature, I still think that it is harmful to sexualize the bodies of teenagers like that.  Although the audience is targeted towards adults, teens will still want to watch the show, and many may not be ready for such intense portrayals of these topics . The actors are all obviously adults, but it is still worrisome that teenagers are being portrayed in such a manner.

Although Euphoria may have it’s faults, it is a step forward in the right direction with positive and honest representations of transgender and queer characters ans well as characters experiencing mental health and substance abuse related problems. It may not be as relatable to most teenagers in terms of them regarding sex, race, and the portrayal of high school type settings, it still makes an effort to represent numerous groups of people and show a different side to what teenagers in high school actually go through. Euphoria, like its name, gives the audience euphoric feelings of elation and excitement through its stunning visuals and soul wrenching music.