I’ll ask you again, are you ready for this? HBO has gone bold in these post-GOT times with the launch of EUPHORIA. It is raw, unfiltered, shocking and unapologetic for being so. But, is it just HBO continuing to prove it can push the envelope? Is it out to just shock audiences into some kind of heated response? Is it out to reach a missed viewer demographic- the teenager? Is it out to tell that generation’s story? Are viewers of any age willing to follow along? We’ll have to see as an 8-episode season begins.
The story plays through the life of Rue, personified by Zendaya. She and showrunner /sole writer Sam Levinson want you to grow empathetic towards these young adults as they struggle through today’s unstable world.
More questions to be raised are will the viewer do just that or does the viewer need to do that to follow this story? It is a strong story for sure and one that may surprise some viewers more than others. But, are those shocks the right kind told the right way? Let’s unpack the pilot episode and see.
We open with Rue taking us through her story to date, literally starting in the womb through to her return home from rehab at only the age of 17. To get us up to speed on where her head is at we get a narrative voice-over. It is not just used in the introductory moments but throughout the pilot episode and hopefully through the entire series run. It proves to be quite a necessary storytelling device as without her voiceover we would be left trying to figure out her world and her perspective of it and herself far too much.
We do learn a lot about Rue as she returns home including her desire not to stay clean. All the players are still in place and the world is spinning just the same as when she left it. Her friends are in the same place, doing the same things. Her drug dealer and even her family are all in play; Fezco (Angus Cloud) is her friend & dealer and there is Gia her younger sister (Storm Reid) and her widowed mother Leslie (Nika King).
There are others in the story that aren’t just hazy presences. There are girlfriends Kat (Barbie Ferreria), who is discovering her sexuality, Cassie (Sydney Sweeney) who’s sexuality is in overdrive and Maddie (Alexia Demie) playing a flirtatious game. The boys in the hood include Nate (Jacob Elordi) the hotheaded stud, Cal (Eric Dane) a family man with a big secret & Nate’s father and Chris (Algee Smith) the kinder-hearted jock. Then there is Jules (Hunter Schafer) a trans girl who becomes Rue’s BFF. They all are caught up in the richly drawn debauched reality of today.
We learn of all the main players as they prepare for and link up at a party thrown by Chris. There is plenty of booze, drugs and hookups. Nate and his bros trash talk Cassie as the school slut, but Chris defends her as they are an item; Kat loses her virginity and Nate gets hot under the collar when his ex-girlfriend Maddie is getting in on with a guy in the pool. The brunt of his anger is lashed out towards Jules who came to the party late. Before she crashed the party, she was making a dangerous motel visit with Cal. Rue & Jules become quick friends by episode’s end.
Now, some people may be shocked at the way the youth are depicted here and that the world today is really like this for them. Perhaps EUPHORIA is a wakeup call for them. They might be shocked to see, for example, Fezco’s assistant Ashtray, a tough little pre-teen, dispensing Rue some hard drugs in the beer store’s cooler. Some might be surprised by, and be warned there is plenty more to come, Cal’s erect penis making an appearance in his encounter with Jules. Moments like these make the story real and truthful and not sensational. Shocking perhaps, but right for the story.
So, by the pilot’s end you meet, though don’t understand fully, all the players. You understand the euphoria they seek, the realities they face, the disconnect they feel. But, are you empathetic? I wasn’t, maybe by the end of the season, I will be. Every generation has their demons and their pressures. All make their way from the paths they take and you alone are responsible for the path you take. Rue had a ‘new chapter’ ahead of her to use her mom’s words. She chose. Jules sought out the mystery man in the motel. She chose. I, for one, do not to
In the end, you have to choose to watch EUPHORIA or not. I say you should. You can watch it for whatever reason. You can watch it to shock your sensibilities; watch it to see the realities you might otherwise be ignoring; watch to see some good acting from younger performers;watch it for the cool soundtrack; watch it to support HBO post-GOT or hell, even watch it to see Eric Dane in the nude.
EUPHORIA airs Sunday nights at 10:00pm and appears on HBO On Demand and HBONow/Go.