In June 2019, season one of HBO’s Euphoria presented a staggering, deeply interesting look at high school life today, based on an Israeli series of the same name that premiered several years earlier. Star Zendaya took home an Emmy for Best Lead Actress in a Drama Series, becoming the youngest performer ever to win the prize. The show aired two standalone episodes in between its first and second season approximately one year ago, checking in with two of its main characters, and now the time has come for Euphoria to deliver more of what audiences have come to expect and infuse a great deal they probably didn’t predict.
Officially described as following high schoolers as they “navigate love and friendships in a world of drugs, sex, trauma and social media,” this series definitely leans heaviest on the drugs and trauma. That is most glaringly seen with Rue (Zendaya), who, at her best, is bubbly and talks rapid-fire, but is slowed almost to a complete halt when she is under the influence of drugs, something that happens with disturbing frequency. The trauma inflicted by parents and other adults is lasting for many of these teenagers, as is the emotional abuse by peers who are either careless or deliberately and cruelly vindictive.
The season two premiere, Trying to Get to Heaven Before They Close the Door, opens with another typically immersive and enlightening deep-dive into a character who hasn’t necessarily been highlighted before, combing through the formative moments in their lives. This time that’s drug dealer Fezco (Angus Cloud), whose past and present bring highly memorable characters in the form of his grandmother (Kathrine Narducci) and a new power player, Laurie (Martha Kelly). Fezco is among the show’s most sympathetic personalities, though he does have considerable baggage and makes poor life choices on occasion.
Fezco’s backstory is overshadowed by the on-screen appearance of a bloodied penis mere minutes into the episode, and that’s not the end of the full-frontal nudity. While it doesn’t necessarily feel gratuitous, the sexual content and violence that shows up, particularly in this episode, are intense and often overwhelming, which may turn off some viewers who want to experience a show about people and what they go through it rather than see it all in gory, potentially triggering detail. It’s not that such explicit scenes serve to aid the storytelling, but only to keep anyone watching in the moment, something this show does exceptionally well.
Among the other memorable moments in the premiere are an extended bathroom-set scene which finds one character trapped behind a curtain, desperately hoping not to be discovered. That follows another interaction which shows how recklessness can be intoxicating, a typical idea seen on this show with impulsive characters who don’t think through the consequences of their actions. But that’s all part of this show’s captivating nature, creating an out-of-body experience with a combination of compelling on-screen material and a powerful score to instantly draw audiences into a specific character’s entire life.
Zendaya may have been the only one to earn major awards attention for her role in season one, but this cast is brimming with talent. Hunter Schafer and Sydney Sweeney are the two better-known standouts, portraying Jules and Cassie, each navigating their own struggles, but the other young women, Kat, Maddy, and Lexi, played by Barbie Ferreira, Alexa Demie, and Maude Apatow, respectively, are equally impressive in comparably supporting roles. The hyper-focus this show often employs makes it so that viewers may not encounter one or more of them for multiple episodes at a time, but its engrossing quality makes it very worthwhile to engage with this stimulating and uncensored content.
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New episodes of Euphoria premiere weekly on Sundays at 9pm on HBO. Season one is available to stream on HBO Max.