Euphoria review dizzying high school drama is one of year’s best

Zendaya play-acts a student battling addiction in a Drake-produced series that have managed to bring both style and substance

Despite the 13 -plus reasons why Netflix teen series 13 Reasons Why was unquestionably problematic, there remained a grimly persuasive army that retained many of us madly clicking for the next occurrence. It was noxious and exploitative but likewise horribly making, a greedily ingested remorse watch that went down readily but left us feeling uneasy on reflection. The parent-baiting tale of a teen taking her own life stoked fury after its premiere due to both its dismal inevitability and its graphic, gothic romanticism. A debate grew over its potentially harmful impact on its young target audience, one that’s been recently reignited by twostudies showing a possible correlation between its liberate and a significant spike in real-world suicides.

There’s then something instead daring, perhaps even dangerous, about the idea of Euphoria, HBO’s splashy, explicit high school drama premiering in the midst of this ongoing furore. It’s a show that deals with addiction, sexuality, porn, body-shaming, drugs, sexual assault, toxic masculinity, self-harm and pretty much every other One Million Moms-angering issue you can think of … and that’s just in the four occurrences available to reviewers. But, while bracingly frank, it’s also able to balance any shock plea with surprising sensitivity. It’s a delicate balancing act, making a show about teens that feels both unfiltered yet careful but somehow, Assassination Nation writer-director Sam Levinson has crafted something that succeeded to every route 13 Reasons Why neglected. It’s still probably going to piss parents off( there are more dicks in the first few chapters than I could count) but there’s more on its mind than simply courting controversy.

While something of an ensemble fragment, Euphoria’s main focus is the post-rehab journey of Rue( Zendaya ), an anxiety-ridden 17 -year-old returning to school with a dark gloom hovering over her psyche. It’s not one that she’s comfy stepping away from just yet, choosing to continue abusing while pretending to her fraught mom that she’s getting better. Her life intersects with a distinctive subsection of peers, from swaggering sociopathic jock Nate( The Kissing Booth’s Jacob Elordi) to sexually unsure college newcomer Chris( The Hate U Give’s Algee Smith) to body-conscious Kat( framework Barbie Ferreira) to, most notably, brand-new daughter Jules( trans activist Hunter Schafer ). Rue procures herself captivated by Jules and the two begin an intense friendship, but one that might struggle to weather the storm that’s about to envelop them all.

Aside from its buzzy cast of up-and-comers, headlined by Disney star done good Zendaya, Euphoria has its cool points stocked up behind the camera, too, with store indie studio A24 and executive producer Drake to give it at the least a superficial air of authenticity. The indicate boastings a dizzying aesthetic that some could conceivably criticise as over-stylised but I obtained it intoxicating , is not merely because it’s so refreshing to watch a cinematic, directed indicate after staying so many flat Netflix series but because there’s essence in the script to support the visual indulgence.

There’s specificity in the problems faced by the teens, whether it’s how pornography has mutated the idea of real-world sex or how to rationalise depressive believes when you’re fully aware of your own privilege, and each chapter available participated new, enticingly uncharted province. While it might boast a heady sheen, it’s far away from a glossy look at high school life, comfortably existing in an entirely different dimension to a display like Riverdale. It’s often incredibly bleak in its portrayal of addiction and in trying to construct the overwhelming social assault teens face day-to-day, whether it be from online bully or from the unending influx of comparing media contents. Rue’s road to addiction is explained through a difficult mosaic of grief, mental health and being born into a world suffocating in stress. One of the show’s biggest challenges is not glamorising the scenes of a Vogue cover star take so many narcotics and while the incidents of Rue snorting and boozing are stylishly shot, the script never shies away from the devastating impact of her decisions at every turn. She’s an awkward deadbeat, far from a character to are looking forward to and, in her most substantial role to date, Zendaya is admirably understated.

Hunter Schafer and Zendaya in Euphoria. Photograph: HBO

Her performance is one of many great turns in a reveal populated by relative unknowns who each demonstrate captivating in varying spaces. There are still camera-friendly faces but the casting feels closer to capturing what an actual high school looks like and similarly, Levinson also manages to deal with sexuality and gender with extraordinarily floored nuance. It’s not announced or established obvious but there’s a casual fluidity that’s both the product of a generation and likewise a deft storyteller. With Drake on board, there’s an expectedly keen awareness of music with the soundtrack veering from Paul Anka to Beyonce to Bobby Womack to Jorja Smith, often reaching hair-raising moments of transcendence. There’s a wildness that learns the prove guessing everything from a Game of Thrones-inspired high school massacre to an animated fan fiction sexuality panorama between Harry Styles and Louis Tomlinson, impossible to predict from incident to scene. At occasions it risks descending into excess and sometimes, Rue’s narration can seem overwritten in a Fight Club-lite kind of way but the pace is so fast that the show is soon on to something that grounds far better.

Euphoria is an extreme experience, dialled up all the way to 11, that have been able to demonstrate harrowing for parents while at the same time shaping the rest of us feel reasonably relieved not to be in high school any more. Its louder instants are graphic and brash but its quieter minutes are equally impactful, a well-modulated drama that knows when to push and then pull back. It’s hard to know where it will go and that’s part of its untamed plea but as it stands, it’s one of the most audacious and effective brand-new reveals I have seen this year.

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