HBO’s “Euphoria” is a work of art


Queue Labrinth’s “Euphoria” soundtrack. Flash the neon lights. Put the glitter makeup on. 

Get ready because when you turn on “Euphoria,” you’re buying a one way ticket on the most outrageous emotional ride of your TV viewing career.

The Gen Z viewers of the 2019 HBO Drama “Euphoria” are once again consumed by everything this show offers — eccentric fashion and makeup, the life of deeply pained characters and an altogether trippy aesthetic — as weekly episodes of the second season drop every Sunday at 9 p.m EST since Jan.9. As the fourth episode of the second season just came out, this show’s popularity only continues to grow, with TikTok trends of people commenting on the “euphoric” plot and characters. 

I put air quotes around euphoric because this show is ironically anything but. As someone who enjoys winding down the day with lighthearted stories like Ted Lasso, New Girl or Seinfeld, this series takes me, and every other victim of its alluring power, to an out-of-this world state. I haven’t decided whether I like being in this state, but maybe that’s the point. It compels the audience to question what it means to be euphoric. Will drugs, sex, love, revenge, fantasy or perfection grant you this ever so seeked happiness? Each character struggles, or often wanders, through their own disoriented and deranged exploration of this question. The show manifests the spectrum of experiences with an ingenious structure of telling the character’s individual backstories at the start of each episode. 

Rue Bennett, a teenage girl with substance abuse disorder, who is played by the undoubtedly brilliant actress Zendaya, is more or less the main character and narrator. The first season starts out with her recently discharging from rehab, and her thoughts when she’s on and off the wagon gives the viewer insight into an addict’s experience. It’s realistic, which I appreciate. The writers didn’t give the audience the satisfaction of having Rue quickly recover and realize the error of her ways or find peace. She relapses again and again and again. Some people abandoned the show when they didn’t see a fairytale resolution to an otherwise disturbing horror story. Yet however maddening it is to be invested in a broken or hopeless character, millions of people still are. The lack of filter is refreshing and disturbing all at once. Maybe the most captivating thing about a character and narrator like Rue is we see her go back and forth between wanting to get better and the moments in which she gives up. We are spectators of all the emotions she goes through: guilt, love, agony, numbness, hopelessness and more I am definitely leaving out. 

Every other character can be interpreted to embody a range of other addictions we as audience members usually don’t think of as unhealthy. Jules, who is played by the powerfully sincere actress Hunter Schafer, is discovering her femininity and identity as a transgender woman through some questionable choices. Cassie (Sydney Sweeney) struggles with being content with herself instead of falling back on meaningless love or sex for validation. Lexi (Maude Apatow), Cassie’s sister, fades into the background and represents the quiet observer throughout all of this. Maddy (Alexa Demie) and Nate (Jacob Elordi) have a very harmful relationship masked by the illusion of everlasting love. Don’t even get me started on Nate Jacobs because he, and his family, is very dysfunctional. Themes like family secrecy, generational trauma and hidden lives are portrayed through the performances of the Jacobs family. There’s also Kat (Barbie Ferreira), who experiences fixations on fantasy to distract from her poor self-image. Lastly, although I could go deeper into every character in the show, we have Fezco (Angus Cloud) and Ashtray (Javon Walton), who are abandoned drug-dealing brothers that are always up to no good yet have immense loyalty and care for the people they love. These are some of the most complex and entertaining characters I’ve followed. 

By now, you can probably guess that this show is not suitable for immature audiences. But although it’s not appropriate in the slightest, the quality of the cinematography, design, plot, writing and soundtrack is some of the most professional and impressive creations in recent TV history. The hazy pink, blue and purple lights set a psychedelic mood to Rue’s trips and the dramatic scenes in general. The camera plays with perspective in ways I haven’t seen, exploring angles I didn’t think were possible to execute. As someone who photographs, I know how fun, yet hard, it is to stretch the creative limits to get a never-before-seen kind of shot. These cinematographers blow my mind by how they’re stretching the boarders of what is possible. The directors designed this show as a visual experience in which it feels like you’re one of the characters. It’s all a work of art. 

I would be remiss if I didn’t also talk about makeup and fashion, which is arguably “Euphoria’s” most distinctive trait right now. The glitter rhinestones, colorful eyeshadow and intricate eyeliner contribute to this false sense of glamour and perfection. Even though everyone’s life is falling to pieces, at least they look fashionable, hot and kinda cosmic. There is a trend on TikTok where people jokingly dress up as if they are going to the “Euphoria” high school and then pop into frame with exaggeratingly provocative outfits to make fun of how different the show’s fashion. 

If you can handle Euphoria’s serious topics and graphic detail, I highly encourage you to watch this series. Many times sitcoms will give us what we want, a depiction of the happiness we seek, but a rare show like this delivers what we need to see. There is a time for both. What I will say is that “Euphoria” is not made to be just relaxing entertainment. It delivers raw commentary on the society in which we live and makes us face the realities we want to separate from. As we see more of the characters’ lives, it becomes harder to ignore their humanity. This show does a magnificent job of creating an artistic revelation of the parts of this generation that many feel should otherwise be swept under the rug. But isn’t that what art is meant to do? Make us question our current beliefs when shown the reality of a foreign perspective? “Euphoria” is the one TV show I can say that has truly done that for me.