Friday, June 14, 2019

TV REVIEW: HBO's 'Euphoria'

HBO will debut its new original drama series Euphoria on Sunday, June 16 at 10/9c. The drama stars Zendaya, Maude Apatow, Angus Cloud, Eric Dane, Alex Demie, Jacob Elordi, Barbie Ferreira, Nika King, Storm Reid, Hunter Schafer, Algee Smith and Sydney Sweeney.

Read on for my thoughts on the new drama after screening its first four episodes.

HBO's new original drama Euphoria absolutely aspires to shock and disturb its audience. It's a show with very graphic content in the hopes of underscoring just what young people are being exposed to nowadays. It's a show perfectly fine with showing a ton of prosthetic penises as well as multiple characters experimenting with drugs. It's a trippy viewing experience overall. One that is bound to hit some viewers the wrong way immediately. The show is already stirring up a ton of controversy before it has even aired. Activist groups are currently lashing out and labeling it as irresponsible to market a show to a young adult audience with this kind of content. And yes, it is a departure for HBO. It's unlike any show they have produced before. It's the premium cable network entering into the YA space in a significant way. It sees the value of marketing to this age bracket as a potential new form of subscribers. They are taking chances in a post-Game of Thrones world. That's admirable. Of course, it's also a little difficult to gauge if the target audience for this show is young people who can relate to the actions the main characters are taking or to parents who will be absolutely horrifying by some of the behaviors shown. It's illuminating either way. It's just bound to play differently to those particular viewers. And yet, that could be a strength of the show as well. It has a strong commend of tone and storytelling. The direction is always on point. It presents drug trips in a way that is mind-bending while always being honest to the brutal experience for the characters who have just partaken in them. It's a show fundamentally about how people are changing every single generation. This just aspires to show the bleak realities of life for high school students in 2019.

The show is also a phenomenal showcase for former Disney star Zendaya. She has taken a similar career trajectory as many other former child stars from the mouse network. She has embraced a dark and adult job to prove that this is something that she is interested in doing and has the range to actually make it work. It's very impressive. Her character, Rue, spent the summer before her junior year of high school in rehab. She overdosed at the start of the summer and was discovered by her younger sister, Gia (Storm Reid). It's a startling sight. And one that doesn't present as an immediate wake-up call to Rue. When she returns to her family home and school, she feels like a ghost. The show lays out all the evidence for why her struggles with addiction began and how easily accessible drugs actually were to her. But the rest of the world also thought she had died. As such, she returns to a learning environment in which people don't really see her or interact with her. Her small group of friends all view her as someone with split personalities because she'll push them away and then ask for a big favor from them. She has no intentions of staying clean either. She remains self-destructive. All of that changes though when she meets Jules (Hunter Schafer), a trans girl who has just moved to town with her father. Jules is wrapped up in her own very disturbing and horrifying behavior. Almost every night she goes out for anonymous and sometimes violent sex with older men. It's brutal to watch. It's so casually treated as well. She positions this as the only way she can have love in her life. That's sad and depressing. And yet, the friendship that blossoms between Rue and Jules really forms the backbone of the season. It takes on many different variations in the first four episodes. It's not always a good and healthy bond. But it's enough for them to feel seen which is all that the characters really want in this world.

At times, the show is slow in introducing and incorporating other members of the ensemble. Through four episodes, all I could tell you about the character played by Maude Apatow is that she is a semi-friend to Rue who appears with her on occasion. And yet, each episode does aspire to introduce and properly feature someone new amongst the ensemble. Plus, this is a show with a terrific young cast. All of them are capable of making their individual character struggles resonant. Some of them are playing types that have been seen in this particular genre before. Jacob Elordi plays the popular jock, Nate, who has a ton of anger and superiority issues. The show just doesn't hold back when it comes to portraying just how toxic and life-altering that specific personality can be in the current climate. This is a world that features instant connectivity. One where a person's secrets could be outed at any moment in time. At times, social media can be very freeing and liberating. Barbie Ferreira's Kat uses her presence online to feel powerful and loved. Of course, that is wrapped up in a sick premise of her starting cam work and selling herself sexually over the internet. Again, the show isn't afraid to paint things in stark times to really drive the message home about how devastating these individual choices can be. At times, it pushes a little too hard in order to get that message across. The balance always has to be just right in order for everything to work. The show doesn't always succeed in doing so. It does more often than not though. As such, it is worth checking out to see if you can tolerate all of the bold and graphic content it is putting on the screen in order to say something meaningful about the world as experienced by the younger generation.