4:45 pm EDT, June 24, 2019

‘Euphoria’ is must-see summer TV and Zendaya is only the beginning

Euphoria is a dizzying, spellbinding journey with nothing off-limits. Zendaya leads the charge, but the rest of the cast is not far behind.

a feeling or state of intense excitement and happiness.

The title is both ironic and completely fitting. Rue (Zendaya) was diagnosed with a multitude of mental illnesses when she was a little girl — OCD, anxiety, ADD, you name it. She began popping pills at an early age and it soon turned from medicinal to recreational. After a summer spent in rehab, she’s back home with no intention of staying clean.

She’s not exactly a happy person, except when she’s high.

Everyone else on the show finds their own sense of euphoria, whether it’s drugs or sex or talking to an anonymous stranger or beating the living shit out of someone. The point is, no one is truly happy with their lot in life until they get a hold of that one thing that makes them feel alive.

This truly is Zendaya’s show, and I don’t think anyone would argue against the idea that she’s the shining star here. The series doesn’t just focus on Rue’s journey, but she’s certainly the one in the driver’s seat. Even when we cut away to other characters, Rue’s voiceover guides us through their own stories. It’s a fantastic way to shine a spotlight on the rest of the town’s residents without completely leaving our main character behind.

Rue has her reasons for being a drug addict and it’s hard to really blame her for falling into the habit. On the other hand, it’s difficult to truly root for her when she’s so adamant about not staying clean. She goes out of her way, time and time again, to make sure she maintains the facade that she’s recovered.

But I do find myself rooting for her, regardless. She makes mistakes — some pretty big ones — but she owns who she is, for better or worse. She’s not trying to hurt anyone, she’s just trying to feel her own pain a little less. Is this the right way to go about it? Absolutely not. But, for now, it’s the only thing that works.

Rue’s sister looks up to her while her mother looks down on her, and this relationship between the three of them is both a source of comfort and a source of pain. Rue’s mother only wants what’s best for her child, but she’s angry and distrustful and hurt. It’s easy to side with Rue until you see flashbacks to the way she used to treat her mother when she was high all the time.

And, it turns out, all of our other players in this game called life are just as complex. The apparent good ones hide dark insecurities while the so-called bad ones might not be who they lead other people to think they are.

Euphoria tackles a variety of topics in addition to drugs, like mental illness, sex, rape, pornography, body shaming, dating apps, BDSM, LGBTQ+ issues, violence, and more.

And that’s only in the first two episodes.

But the show doesn’t go for shock value. Instead, it just lays everything bare — literally. The first episode has a couple of topless shots of a few girls and one guy with his pants down. Episode 2, though? It’s full of dicks. It’s not gratuitous, either. There’s a reason why they’re there, and honestly, it was nice to see a bunch of guys on full display for once instead of the alternative.

Narratively, the series jumps around but never seems to lose its place. Rue’s voiceover cues a freeze-frame while we’re pulled into someone’s backstory, only to snap into the present day timeline once we’ve gained the knowledge we need. There are a lot of montages and quick rundowns to get us up to speed, but there are plenty of markers so you never feel like you’ve lost your place.

The show is a no-holds-barred experience, and that translates from the story itself to the way its portrayed on screen. We trip right alongside Rue, and sometimes it’s just as difficult for us to understand what’s real and what’s drug-induced. Cinematographically, light and color play a huge role in conveying Rue’s thoughts and feelings. Zendaya’s portrayal is not dialogue-heavy but it hardly matters — she’s just as adept at explaining what’s going on in her head through nuanced facial expressions.

I could talk about Zendaya for another couple thousand words, but it wouldn’t be right to ignore the other cast members and what they’re currently bringing to the table.

Hunter Schafer plays Jules, who immediately grabs Rue’s attention. The two become best friends, though each of them take the lead on their own storylines. Jules doesn’t care what anyone thinks of her and she just tries to live her life as her truest self. That being said, she definitely has some of those dark insecurities I was talking about earlier. Her sexual appetite could get her into trouble one of these days, and I’m terrified to see that play out.

Jacob Elordi portrays Nate. On the surface, he seems like your typical jock douchebag, and he tends to act as such. What makes him so interesting is that he’s not quite what he appears on the outside, and his entire being seems to be a contradiction. I haven’t quite figure him out yet, but I know I’m definitely not done trying. He has some serious issues and he could end up totally being a psychopath, but he’s at a point in his life where he may choose to walk down any number of different paths. Only time will tell.

Barbie Ferreira’s Kat is another favorite. She deals with a lot of slut and body shaming, but she remains strong and confident — at least on the outisde. She’s whip-smart and driven, but she can also be reckless. Like many of the other characters on the show, you want to shake her for making dumbass decisions while simultaneously protecting her from all of life’s cruelties.

And shoutout to Fezco, played by Angus Cloud, who only has this one acting credit to his name. He is far and away my favorite character, thanks to his calm demeanor and his undying loyalty to Rue. Like most of the other characters on this show, you’re not sure if you should root for him or not. He’s clearly feeding Rue’s addiction, but he’d also go to the ends of the Earth to protect her.

Euphoria is unique in that I can see where the show is going, but I have no idea what’s going to happen once we get there. It’s already set up all the dominoes to fall, but we don’t know what the consequences will be once they hit the ground. I, for one, am already having trouble looking away. This is the kind of show I’d easily binge in one sitting, so my only complaint so far is that we have to wait week to week to find out what happens next.

Ultimately, this series is about people and their relationships with each other. A lot of them aren’t healthy, but that’s life. Eupphoria doesn’t support the things it depicts onscreen; instead, it presents them matter-of-factly and waits for you to decide how you feel about it.

Is this a typical look at the American teen experience? No, definitely not. But you’re naive if you don’t think these situations happen all across the world on a daily basis. What Euphoria gives us is real and even relatable, whether you want to admit it or not. It paints the world in a variety of complex, multi-dimensional colors, and it’s our job to take it all in, dissect it, and see how our perceptions change in the process.

What do you think of ‘Euphoria’ so far?

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