To tackle the intricacies of teenage years, gender issues, bodies and souls’ diversity with relevance, is not a simple matter. Yet, it is what has been done in one single season with Euphoria, a series created and written by the prodigious Sam Levinson and aired on HBO (OCS in France) in 2019 – it was received like a collision. Everywhere since then, girls, boys, and everyone who does not identify themselves with these narrow boxes, dress up and wear makeups in the protagonists’ fashion, whether they are on TikTok, Instagram or in real life. This is how phenomenal the impact of the show, adapted from the Israeli mini-series of the same name, is on today’s pop culture.
On paper however, nothing predestined Euphoria to be a universal show. Showing the extreme sensations felt by a group of troubled Californian teenagers, the series was designed to target that particular age group, as well as those filled with doubts. Following the path laid out by Skins and Kids, Euphoria draws the portraits of lost youngsters who try to feel alive no matter what, even if they have to resort to dangerous practices. Among the sweet, cruel, and poetic overview of Gen Z, there is Rue Bennett (incredible Zendaya), 17 years old in the first season, just out from rehab, not knowing if life truly has a meaning. Shy and neurasthenic, she falls for Jules V aughn (Hunter Schafer), a very magnetic trans girl who has just moved nearby after her parents’ divorce. In this endearing galaxy, there are also Nate Jacobs, a sportsman troubled by his sexual complexes, the wild Kat Hernandez (Barbie Ferreira), proud to show her curves off with her SM wardrobe, or the bimbo Maddy Perez (gorgeous Alexa Demie), a bitchy knockout who appears less superficial than she seems to be.
An aesthetic of contrasts
The oneiric beauty and emotional power of Euphoria lies in the way these teens’ adventures are portrayed through the protagonists’ lens, without any taboos or stereotypes, and with a trashy and moving energy. One trouble after another – dysfunctional family, heartaches, getting wasted, persistent melancholia – the sequences immersed in the blueish lights of a hype nightclub are meticulously shot, the music is mesmerizing, and the makeups glittering. Amid difficult situations, a captivating aesthetics emerges. Although the characters struggle to find their way out of their respective identity crises, friendships and academic experiences, their faces adorn radiant glitters, and their bodies wear gleaming clothing – just like stars in the dark night of their dramatic existence, stained with drugs and meaningless sex.
Taking us back to the glam rock era, the appearance of these teenagers is enhanced by artefacts that make them as iconic as paintings. It is particularly true for one of the strongest lead characters: Hunter Schafer, transgender actress and model, impressive by the authenticity that emanates from her. She fascinates us in the role of Jules, a romantically clueless young girl, uncertain but very bold too, especially through her Y2K rave-like styles. With great sense of nuance, her performance alone encompasses the subtlety of the first season of the show, which never gives in to bad taste, easy options, or shortcuts.
A long-awaited season 2
If the first season was a total success, what can we expect from the second one and its first episode released on Monday, January 10th? Following two breathtaking episodes that focused on Rue and Jules, these new images have been eagerly awaited by the critics and the public. And right from the spectacular first minutes, the fans should be content.
The viewers can find the same gang from season 1 again – along with new charismatic characters – and even though they have all grown up, the complexity of each situation, as well as the inventiveness displayed in the music video-like direction, remain. Regarding the general plot, Rue still tries to defeat her demons (addiction) and has to get over a difficult separation but makes a potentially life-changing encounter.
Just like this storyline, this new season offers a lot of violence – the first scene being a Tarantino-like hell of a shock – of sex, self-destruction, and drugs. Reminding of Bret Easton Ellis, Larry Clark, Gus Van Sant and Harmony Korine, the narrative seems rehashed, but the magic happens again. Even darker than the initial season, season 2 begins with the same interrogation about identity: how far are we ready to go to know who we are and to get rid of our lack of self-esteem? It is a safe bet that this question, shot frenetically like an adrenaline shoot, reaches beyond the teenagers who simply don’t know what “outfit of the day” to post on their TikTok story...
Euphoria season 2 episode 1 available on HBO (OCS in France). Seven additional episodes will follow.