Still wondering why Sam Levinson’s hit show “Euphoria” is plastered all over the internet? So is the rest of the world.
During 2019, pre-pandemic, “Euphoria” received an average of 6.6 million watchers from merely eight episodes of season one. After the season ended and production was postponed, the anticipation for more of the show grew.
The premiere of season two dropped over a year later on Jan. 9, and fans went crazy. The series currently has 13.1 million viewers from HBO and HBO Max.
So why is a teeny-bopper sex show getting so many views?
The realistic depictions of drugs, sex, manipulation, identity crises, depression and high school as a whole is highlighted in each episode, all while being soaked in glitter and sparkly party clothes.
A lot of high school shows miss the concept of tragic situations and the real-life struggles teens deal with. However, “Euphoria” does a good job of tying it together without worrying about villainizing its characters.
Not only does one feel the emotional tragedies of each dark and twisted event, but the graphic portrayal of metaphors and hardships requires a serious content warning for every new episode.
To revisit the structure of each episode in season one, most of the episodes start with a flashback to a previous moment or significant event in each of the characters’ lives. For example, the second episode of season one starts by retracing the events of Nate Jacobs, played by Jacob Elordi, as a kid watching his dad’s secret collection of porn where he has sex with young men and trans women.
Now, for recapping the events of each of the characters, things get a bit complicated.
Rue Bennett, played by Zendaya, is the narrator and one of the main characters of the story. Rue’s main struggle throughout the series is that she’s a drug addict. Her father died from cancer after she spent all of her time feeding him medication in his bedroom inside her home. When Rue got curious about the pills and drugs, she tried them herself and was hooked from there. We watch the trauma that her mom, Leslie, played by Nika King, and sister, Gia, played by Storm Reid, go through after she overdoses, gets back from rehab and relapses. We meet her drug dealer, Fezco, played by Angus Cloud. Throughout the show, Rue finds a new best friend—whom she later falls in love with—named Jules Vaughn, played by Hunter Schafer, who also rises as a main character.
Jules is new to town and she definitely doesn’t start off on the right foot. Like Schafer in real life, Jules is transgender and fluid with her sexuality. She has sex with Nate’s dad, Cal Jacobs, played by Eric Dane, at the beginning of the show, before knowing who he is. Her entire season one experience essentially surrounds her dangerous one-night stands, her obsession with a mystery internet guy named Tyler, and her complicated friendship with Rue.
Nate is the well-loved boy who rules the school, though he has a darker side to him, like most of the other characters. As the season progresses, we see Nate is a toxic, abusive boyfriend to his girlfriend, Maddy Perez, played by Alexa Demie. He plays with Jules’s feelings through the persona of Tyler on a gay dating app, and he is very confused about his sexuality because of seeing his dad’s secret porn collection at such a young age. All the characters are pretty villainous in their own ways, but Nate is the definitely darkest in the bunch.
Maddy is a pretty simple character to understand. She was a pageant girl who has always wanted to marry rich. She’s dating Nate and loves him, but also cannot seem to pull herself out of the on-and-off abusive situation she’s in. In one of the episodes, Nate leaves physical bruise marks on her neck, but she still feels love for him— a situation envisioned to be very relatable on screen for a lot of domestic violence survivors. Her best friends are Lexi, Cassie and Kat, who stand alongside her as she rules the school with her popularity.
Cassie Howard, played by Sydney Sweeney, has a little more depth to her. Cassie’s dad left her, her mom and her sister, Lexi, played by Maude Apatow, when they were young. Cassie is extremely sexualized in the show, with her nude photographs and videos constantly being brought up, and her chest is always on display. In the first season, Cassie struggles mostly with the relationship she has with Chris McKay, played by Algee Smith. At one point, Cassie even has to deal with an unplanned pregnancy from her on-and-off college boyfriend.
Finally, we have Kat Hernandez, played by Barbie Ferreira, the best friend of Maddy who constantly struggles with her body image. Viewers watch Kat’s love for her body grow as she gains a new sexual confidence and newfound body positivity. She explores her sexuality in real life and on the internet and we watch her adventure off into new worlds and become more comfortable in her skin.
All of the characters’ attitudes are mirroring a Gen Z depiction of high school students. The curse words, the drugs, the alcohol, the parties and the confusing relationships, all go along with some of the darker views of what goes on behind teens’ closed doors.
One can imagine after seeing full nudity scenes, hearing F-bombs dropped in every scene and watching character dramas unfold, anyone would be drawn back into the action for a season two.
Except, season two is even crazier than anyone expected.
Remember the good friends Maddy and Cassie who devoted their souls to being best friends?
Well, Cassie is now hooking up with Nate behind Maddy’s back.
Otherwise, besides the main drama, Kat remains bored with her new vanilla relationship with a normal guy, Rue relapsed on drugs (again) and Jules is pushing to get Rue back. And the dear, pure Lexie started to develop a little feelings for old Fezco—until he beat Nate to a pulp as revenge for tipping the cops off to raid his house.
And that was just the first episode.
As for the rest of the season, it all moves pretty quickly.
The audience meets a recurring character, Elliot, played by Dominic Fike, who was originally seen doing drugs with Rue. Now that she and Jules magically became a couple, Jules is suspicious of Elliot and Rue’s friendship. Jules interrogates him and discovers they aren’t secretly in love, but doesn’t know Rue is doing drugs with him.
Throughout the next few episodes, the three of them hang out. After Jules tries to get Rue to be more sexual with her, we see a downfall to their relationship, as Rue is too high to enjoy sexual activities and Jules is desperate for something.
Soon enough, Jules and Elliot decide to jump off a metaphorical bridge one day and almost nearly rip each other’s clothes off, making out when Rue’s in the bathroom.
They steal some liquor, almost get killed and Rue goes too far on her high, to which she and Jules sort of break-up and eventually Elliot rats Rue out for her drug use.
All of episode five revolves around Jules ratting Rue’s addiction out to her mother,her running away from her problems and essentially ruining all the good relationships she has with her friends and family. This entire episode had phenomenal acting and filming. Zendaya may just win a second Emmy for Best Actress, simply for her engagingly realistic acting in this scene.
The audience really sees the difficulty drug addicts have with their life and those in the world around them. By portraying the effects of drugs, young people can open their eyes to the truth behind addiction.
As for the rest of the characters, it’s a more mundane sense of drama.
Nate is in the hospital, deciding on whether he actually wants Cassie, Maddy or Jules. Cassie is struggling with an identity crisis because she has no idea who she is without a relationship. Maddy doesn’t know whether to get back together with Nate or stay broken up with him.
In the end, Maddy and Nate get back together and Cassie does not handle the decision well. A drunken night leads to Cassie vomiting in a hot tub on everyone, making for a nice, unforgettable birthday gift for dear Maddy.
Not to mention that shortly, in the midst of the Rue drama in episode 5, Maddy finds out from a relapsing Rue that her best friend and boyfriend had been hooking up since after New Year’s.
Can someone say drumroll for episode 6?
Otherwise, McKay is pretty irrelevant in college, Kat is stuck in a relationship she can’t stand, Fez is still selling drugs and Lexie is writing a play called “Oklahoma” based on her sister Cassie’s life.
And that’s just the beginning of the mess to come.
Something about “Euphoria” seems to be keeping people on their toes. Maybe each of the characters has a relatable dark side after all. Or maybe the realism of the show’s emotions and drama for young adults makes it that much more appealing.
Season two, episode six is scheduled to air on Feb. 13 at 6 p.m. What could Levison have in store for us next?
Jaedyn Young can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @jaedyn_young3.