Euphoria’s greatest rewards are, perhaps deliberately, a long way beneath the surface
Superficially, everything about this eight-parter suggests it was built-to-order as a lightning rod for controversy. Euphoria is a thoroughly unflinching treatise on teenage hedonism with a former Disney star at its centre. It's also acutely aware of the machinations of adolescence for Generation Z, as we’re reminded by an opening scene that sees lead character Rue Bennett being born on 11 September 2001, on a maternity ward gamely dealing with a world that continues to turn as images of a burning World Trade Centre flicker on television sets in the background.
There’s no denying that the show is hyper-stylised, sometimes to its credit – the soundtrack, featuring the likes of Lizzo, Billie Eilish and Migos, is sharp enough to cut yourself on – and sometimes to its detriment. The chopped-and-screwed cinematography and flits between breakneck and glacial editing are equal parts exhilarating and exasperating. It’s also true that HBO’s typically laidback censors have not been made uncharacteristically skittish by the teenage cast, with every aspect of Euphoria's sex, drugs and Instagram scroll approach relayed graphically.
Beyond that, broader and more profound truths about the teenage experience unfurl themselves as the season wears on. Zendaya’s lead turn as 17-year-old Bennett is remarkable. She does not, initially, present as a universally relatable narrator – drug-addicted, wrestling with severe mental health issues, dry-as-a-bone witty. As she woozily weaves her way through this crucial passage in her own coming-of-age, though, evidence subtly begins to stack up that there is more uniting Bennett and her peers than dividing them, whether they’re malevolent jocks, neurotic geeks or unapologetic burnouts.
The controversy and hot takes that Euphoria’s no-holds-barred aesthetic was always bound to generate have already done what they were supposed to; a second season has been commissioned. It might just be, though, that this bleak, grimy vision of teenage life is simply another reflection of a long-established maxim – it ain’t easy being young.