Zendaya, the Spider-Man: Homecoming actress and star of HBO's new show Euphoria released a warning to her fans before the series premiere; "Euphoria is for mature audiences. It's a raw and honest portrait of addiction, anxiety, and the difficulties of navigating life today. There are scenes that are graphic, hard to watch, and can be triggering." And she certainly wasn't exaggerating. Euphoria makes all teen dramas that came before it seem meek and mild in comparison. Show creator Sam Levinson will certainly be provoking some audience members with the rather depressing teenage world he's written, but also could be building to something deeper. Taking a look at the pilot though, just what is it about this show that's sparking all the controversy?
10 Drugs Vs. Medication
One of the first things we learn about Zendaya's character Rue is that she's a drug addict. In fact, before the action of the show has even begun we learn that she's just spent summer in a rehab clinic following an overdose. However, through her own admission, Rue has no intention of quitting and one of her very first scenes post-rehab is her re-stocking on pills and cocaine.
But the pilot also sets up a very interesting debate: Rue has OCD and has been taking medication for it all her life. While neither type of drug is comparable there's an irony developing with her Mum forcing her to take drug tests and also supplying her with behavioral medication. It'll be interesting to see how it develops further.
9 Everyone's Addicted
Part of what makes Euphoria so compelling is its sprawling cast of characters. Rue may be our focal point, but Levinson's script jumps between several different social groups all of whom seem to be addicted to something. Be that alcoholic parents, sex-addiction, cocaine-selling 13 year-olds, or just good old fashioned narcotics every one in this show seems to have a vice. Levinson is really creating a world of addiction here, in which parents and kids, friends and relatives can draw many different double standards. Addiction is so completely the norm here it almost makes question anyone who isn't addicted to something.
8 Climate Change
Euphoria has its own special brand of teen nihilism. These kids aren't just partying and smoking their lives away because they don't care, but because of the time they live in, they realize, that there's no point in doing anything else. One memorable line form Rue has her comment, "The world's ending, and I'm still supposed to go to high school." High school is hard enough for these characters but it must be even worse when it looks like there's no point in even going anymore. This theme is something to look out for in future episodes. The idea that the situation these kids are in is not really their fault is a prevalent one throughout the pilot.
7 Born On 9/11
The episode opens with a very glib voice-over from Rue describing her own birth, just three days after the 9/11 attacks. Introducing the lead character via a world famous terrorist attack is a pretty bold move but serves as another key way for understanding the world of these characters. You wouldn't often associate such a disaster with new life and it's clear that Rue's parents struggled a lot with it too. The pilot suggests that Rue was born into trauma, and it took her parents to get over that before they could dedicate the proper attention to her.
6 A New Type Of Love
There is a lot of nudity in Euphoria and a lot of discussion about nudity. Particularly regarding sending nudes to one another. At one point Rue says "I know your generation relied on flowers and father's permission. But it's 2019, nudes are the currency of love. So stop shaming us." Part of the show's controversy seems to be pointing out that controversial things just aren't that controversial any more.
5 Porn Vs. Real Sex
HBO is no stranger to showing graphic content you won't see on many other TV shows. In Euphoria, not only do characters openly talk about porn, the show intercuts porn clips between some scene changes. If this is going to tell, it seems its also always going to show.
But, again it also sparks a discussion point: most of the kids on the show learn about sex via porn and they can't always tell the difference between what they see and the real world. So be prepared for some sex scenes that are meant to shock you, but are also trying to say something.
4 Toxic Masculinity
As with all teen dramas, you have your different social groups; not least the jocks. And as you'd expect Euphoria has a lot to say about this particular group. From the very introduction of football star Nate, it's clear that he's quite a scary guy. Recently dumped, Nate is described as being "on one" which involves nearly running girls down in his car, threats of violence, bullying, describing his classmates as animals, and "teaching" his friends how to treat girls. He is one of the worst perpetrators for the atmosphere of toxic masculinity and he is not seen as a sympathetic, loveable (if annoying) jock; he is an infection and he might be quite dangerous.
3 Unconventional Desire
If you ever needed more of a reason not to watch this with your parents then it would the inclusion of a BDSM relationship. The show is not trying to shock you with the relationship, but rather who it involves. Jules is the new girl in school and she's introduced by going on a date to meet a much older dominant. By the end of the episode, it's clear that this is setting up a main plot point but it's yet another example of the bare-boned rawness that Zendaya was warning about.
Perhaps the most unsettling element of Euphoria is the unspoken factor of violence. The pilot episode doesn't go deep into violence (although it does manage to fit in a character nearly getting stabbed at a party) but it does create an environment where violence appears to be lurking everywhere: bruises on Jules' thighs, darker side to Nate's personality, it's present in sex and in relationships. It may not be more deeply explored until later episodes but you can already tell that violence is a major part of this world.
1 Mental Health
It's really not surprising that given all the factors described above that these characters would be in a pretty rocky mental state. What the show does very well though, is draw the line between sensationalizing and empathizing with the behavior of these teens. This balance is what gives the show it's overwhelmingly dark and apocalyptic feel; each character is equal parts thrilled and repulsed by their own desires and actions. And the audience too is meant to feel equally entertained and saddened by what they're watching. In fact, most of the show's conflict comes from the paradoxical psychological state within each of its characters.