June 17, 2019

SHOWBUZZDAILY Series Premiere Review: “Euphoria”


EUPHORIA:  Sunday 10PM on HBO

HBO’s new teen transgression drama EUPHORIA is produced by the indie studio A24, and for those who frequent what’s left of the American indie landscape, most notably the films that come out of Sundance, Euphoria is less revolutionary than it presents itself as being.  The drugs- and porn-saturated world of 21st century teens who cycle back and forth through rehab, barely guided by disconnected adults, is a regular part of those festival line-ups.  Euphoria creator Sam Levinson (working from an Israeli format) was himself the auteur behind the (awful) apocalyptic teen nightmare Assassination Nation, which rode the teen circuit before briefly alighting in theatres.

In this case, our just-out-of-rehab protagonist is Rue, played by Zendaya, whose presence is its own shiver of transgression, since until now she’s mostly been known for Disney fare and such family entertainments as The Greatest Showman and the most recent Spider-Man installments.  Rue’s father died of cancer when she was a child and she’s been overmedicated for years, so her segue into illicit drugs was relatively smooth, notwithstanding the overdose that landed her in rehab.  We meet her as she’s arriving back home to her well-meaning mother (Nika King) and younger sister (Storm Reid), with zero intention of staying clean and the dual yearnings of wanting to have her emotions deadened while feeling absolutely everything.

Mostly, though, we see Rue with her assortment of friends and high school acquaintances.  Chief among those is a new arrival to the town, Julies (Hunter Schafer), who is trans and who has a dangerous habit of indulging in online hook-ups with older men.  By the end of the pilot, she and Rue are on the road to becoming soulmates.  Others include Maddy (Alexa Demie), her current ex Nate (Jacob Elordi), the newly-devirginized Kat (Barbie Ferreira), and Cassie (Sydney Sweeney).  Their various jealousies and ways of acting out aren’t all that dissimilar from those in The OC or a current CW series, except this being HBO, they’re a lot more explicit.  (Euphoria seems to be staking its claim to fame on the fact that penises are frequently on camera, an admitted rarity even in the world of pay-TV.)

Pilot director Augustine Frizzell (also a Sundance veteran) gives the hour the kind of gritty gloss that seems intended, a mix of suburban blandness and occasional drug-driven lyricism, and the cast is fully committed to whatever Levinson asks them to reveal, but it remains to be seen whether Euphoria has anything original to say about this era and its teens.  The tone of the material bounces between an appreciation of youthful sensitivity and street-smarts, a chiding sense that all this irresponsibility will catch up with them, and an undertone of black comedy.  Euphoria has a compelling surface, and a genuine star at its center, but it has yet to offer any insight beyond the truisms that teens make bad decisions and adults don’t know what’s going on in front of their faces.  It will take more than omnisexual nudity to make that message truly distinctive.

About the Author

Mitch Salem
MITCH SALEM has worked on the business side of the entertainment industry for 20 years, as a senior business affairs executive and attorney for such companies as NBC, ABC, USA, Syfy, Bravo, and BermanBraun Productions, and before that, at the NY law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges. During all that, he has more or less constantly been going to the movies and watching TV, and writing about both since the 1980s. His film reviews also currently appear on and In addition, he is co-writer of an episode of the television series "Felicity."