The High of ‘Euphoria’ Returns for a Second Season

It’s moments like seeing the fifth penis in one 58 minute episode of television that you are reminded of HBO’s modus operandi. The Home Box Office was a pay television network before it was a streaming service. By both producing and distributing their own content, the platform was able to avoid obscenity restrictions usually imposed on cable TV. The result has been a network known for infamously naked and violent shows such as “Game of Thrones,” and “The Sopranos.” Following this model and premiering its second season after nearly two years of hiatus is “Euphoria.”

In 2022, full artistic freedom means more than just shock value. “Euphoria” explores the life of an adolescent drug addict. It is a conscientious portrayal of mental health in all its complexity, capturing both the extreme lows and extreme highs, as the show is aptly named. What happens when you place your dependency on happiness, or even sobriety, on your relationship with somebody else? How has universal and unrestricted internet access changed adolescent life? The protagonists’ trials as a drug addict are not glorified as she terrifies her family by nearly dying of a drug overdose. This trauma sets the tone for Rue’s complex and empathetic character, one that Zendaya carries with a stunning performance across an intense first season.

Sydney Sweeney as Cassie. Courtesy of HBO.

Each episode focuses specifically on a different characters’ childhood, life and present motivations. The unique appeal of “Euphoria” is how deeply it dives into the life and psyche of so many different characters, not just one or two protagonists. Of this dynamic, Ben Travers of Indie Wire argues that the show “bites off more than its audience will be able to handle,” and I have to disagree. Moments like Jules (Hunter Schafer) speaking to Kat (Barbie Ferreira), saying she wishes they could have been closer, are especially heartbreaking because we know exactly why they were each preoccupied. Co-produced by A24, the show has a beautiful cinematic quality — but the structure of the episodes allows for a deeper dive into each character without losing the plot. No character is really there just to support someone else’s narrative. Like real life, every person has their own struggles, and their own motivations. These trials and tribulations all come together to form a complex and entertaining narrative.

Like the network’s niche comedies “Hacks” and “White Lotus,” “Euphoria” reflects specifically on popular culture of the last decade. Devices have turned information, drugs and sex into commodities. These commodities are dangerously easy to access for a generation raised by the internet. What if the dumbest mistake you ever made was immortalized publicly, forever? What if your budding sexuality was not something shameful, but something to capitalize on?

At times, it feels as though the show is really trying to handle these issues with some level of responsibility. But audiences have a growing appetite for sensationalism and sexuality, especially when it comes to teen dramas. The season two premiere didn’t play around– it included a frankly shocking amount of sex and violence, immediately and throughout the episode. The increasing frequency of these themes tells us that the show is competing for attention with programs like Netflix’s “Sex Life,” “Bridgerton,” and other glorified soft porn. Maybe the diversity of themes and the representation make us feel better about it — but HBO needs to make something that we can’t look away from, even if it’s hard to watch.

“Euphoria” is currently streaming on HBO Max.

By Georgia Riddle

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