Euphoria, HBO’s first foray into the world of (salacious) teenage drama, plays with two starkly different ideas of what high school can be.
On the one hand, there’s the glitter-soaked high the trailer for the series, which premieres June 16th, tries to sell. A kaleidoscope of colors set to dreamy background music, a perpetual house party filled with drugs and booze and good times. It’s the lie we’d all like to buy into, the fabricated memory of youth, the hollow souvenir we dust off when old age, work, and slow metabolisms start to take their toll.
Then there’s the other, more honest portrait of those hormone-ruled years – one that immerses itself in the confusion, angst, and aimlessness of teens whose every mishap and mistake feel like the end of the world. Kids who feel things so viscerally, because of an unbalance of chemicals or LSD-laced pills or the sh*t-state of the world around them, that they live in a constant haze of anxiety and paranoia. Our two versions of high school are the high and the comedown and Euphoria has smartly chosen to focus on the latter.
The series (of which we’ve seen four episodes) begins with its star Zendaya voicing a disinterested narration of her character’s birth – highlighting a violent rejection from her mother’s “cruel cervix” before following her out the birthing canal. Subtle this show is not.
And why should it be? With every 9/11 reference, school shooting drill, mention of nudes and child pornography and some jock forcibly fingering a girl at a school dance, we’re reminded of the utter chaos, and the higher stakes, this era of teenagedom contains.
Zendaya’s Rue is our guide through it all, a young woman who’s been chewed up by over-medicating doctors and parental figures – adults who try to solve an unknowable sickness with multi-colored pills. Rue’s watched her father die from cancer, but her issues probably started before that – her generation is one that’s literally been birthed by anxiety after all. The drugs she takes – a potent mix of xannys and coke and oxy – aren’t the problem, they’re just the means she’s found to quiet it.
She’s readying for a new school year after a stint in rehab following an overdose. We watch her younger sister (Storm Reid) find her in a pool of her own vomit in flashbacks. Rue feels bad about that, bad about everything she’s put her mother and sister through, but not bad enough to stop getting high at parties, or in the bathroom at school, or on the couch of her drug-dealer.