Early reviews of Euphoria, the Zendaya-fronted and -produced HBO series premiering on Sunday, may be mixed, but everyone seems to agree on one thing: this show is explicit.
The logline for the series, per HBO's announcement last year, goes a little something like this: “Euphoria follows a group of high school students as they navigate drugs, sex, identity, trauma, social media, love and friendship.”
How this plays out is a little more complicated than that. Each episode is told from the point of view of one of the main characters: Zendaya plays Rue, a 17-year-old suburbanite who spends her summer in rehab; Hunter Schafer stars as Jules, a transgender girl who is new in town and quickly befriends Rue; Jacob Elordi is Nate, a typical jock archetype who acts out with sexual aggression; and so many more up-and-coming breakout performers like Sydney Sweeney, Barbie Ferreira, Algee Smith, and Maude Apatow. There is also—as promised—no shortage of sex, overdose, and violence, all filmed provocatively and explicitly.
The obvious thing to do with Euphoria would be to compare it to Skins, the British series that ran for seven seasons and launched the careers of many big names like Nicholas Hoult, Dev Patel, and Daniel Kaluuya. (It also spawned an American version on MTV, but we don't talk about that.)
On second thought, maybe we should talk about that failed MTV experiment—it was swiftly cancelled after one season, and panned by the Parents Television Council as "the most dangerous show for teens." But looking back at the American Skins, maybe one reason it did not succeed was because it was on a network that hampered what it could show when it came to nudity and drug use. Maybe there is something to depicting something that approximates "the real thing," which Euphoria aims to do with its cautionary tale about the dangers teens face today, like revenge porn or fentanyl use.
So, now we have Euphoria on HBO, a network that has in part became infamous for its generous depiction of violence, drug use, and nudity (female, not male—although Euphoria may end up rebalancing that divide when it apparently shows 30 penises in just one episode). The PTC is still angry, though, about this Drake-produced show created by Sam Levinson, who based many of the plot details on actual events from his teen years, and the rest of the show on an Israeli series of the same name.
What's the problem, then? Why are parents so upset about a show that hasn't even premiered yet? Well, per The Hollywood Reporter, the Parents Television Council president Tim Winter asserts that Euphoria "appears to be overtly, intentionally marketing extremely graphic adult content—sex, violence, profanity and drug use—to teens and preteens."
But Euphoria also appears to be more keen on educating adults a decade or less removed from high school about what's really going on with the teens, rather than encouraging teens to be bad. According to THR, HBO even hired an intimacy coordinator, Amanda Blumenthal, to keep everyone in line. The actors all appear to be on board (except for one unnamed star, who allegedly exited the project after learning his character might "experiment with homosexuality" later in the series) and have the freedom to decide if they want to appear nude the day of shooting that particular scene. Some of the genitalia depicted is not necessarily sexualized—a scene in the second episode shows young men showering in the locker room; another scene depicts a topless character as she is changing in her bedroom with her friends. The realism of the sex scenes, however, is underscored by the fact that the show doesn't hide much. (Per THR, Blumenthal initially wanted to use genitalia coverage pads, but "found they weren't that helpful because the actors were rarely in the missionary position.")
Still, the question remains: how many teens and pre-teens actually watch television instead of looking at YouTube or scrolling through TikTok? Most teens probably aren't watching HBO these days. Even if they watched Game of Thrones along with the rest of the world, that's over now and was never explicitly marketed towards the younger audience in the first place. If they're using a streaming platform, they're probably watching the likes of, say, Netflix's Sex Education, another frank (but not nearly so graphic) and meaningful series about, well, sex. Though if they do end up watching Euphoria, it seems possible that they will relate to seeing their real experiences represented on screen, and may even learn from the mistakes of the characters. But what seems more likely is that Euphoria is really a show about Gen-Z, but for Millennials. After all, one doesn't graduate from sex and drugs and violence after high school.
Related: What is Euphoria, Zendaya's HBO Show, Even About?
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