Just what is it about wearing BDSM harnesses to biology lessons, rhinestone eyebrows in gym class and attending high production house parties in locations which, frankly, look like they belong in Drake’s property portfolio that evokes such strong memories of our school years? If you’re drawing a blank – if this doesn’t mirror your painfully awkward, spotty, cringe-filled adolescence – naturally you’ll be in the majority.
Binge's controversial hit series Euphoria is back on. And with it the gang of impossibly beautiful teenagers and their woes, as well as pills (lots), apps (lots) and sex (lots). The entirety of the cast – without exception – look like teenagers churned out by the Yassify Bot (the meme-ified internet trend that glams up images of people via hyperexaggerated beauty filters). The result is a fictional school of achingly cool poster girls/guys with contoured cheekbones, snatched outfits and rippling abs (that literally only professional athletes should have).
There’s Jules, our ethereal e-girl; sultry Y2K queen Maddy; bad and bondaged Kat (IRL model Barbie Ferreira); wide-eyed teen dream Cassie; effortlessly grunge Rue (played by Emmy-winning, subliminally influential cool girl Zendaya), chiselled jock Nate (played by 6ft 5 actor Jacob Elordi; the man literally looks 40, change my mind), our resident drug dealer and streetwear aficionado Fez (who bears a striking resemblance to late musician Mac Miller) and beautiful, baby-faced college student Chris McKay (Algee Smith). As if it were even possible, the series has upped the cool ante with the introduction of a new cast member for season two: Elliot, played by face-tattooed, bleach-haired music industry virtuoso Dominic Fike (who has collaborated with the likes of Paul McCartney and Justin Bieber).
In their moments of chaos and messiness, their blood, sweat and tears are smeared on a Jeremy Scott or Eckhaus Latta two-piece rather than a $47 dress from Topshop.
Obviously attractive casts for teen TV shows are nothing new, with predecessors Gossip Girl and One Tree Hill focusing on a certain cross-section of attractive, privileged, white cis teens. But even in comparison to its contemporaries – Riverdale, Scream, Cruel Summer and Sex Education – Euphoria takes it to the next level. The ‘teens’ don’t look like 17-year-old teenagers at all (probably because they’re played by actors between the ages of 22 and 29); their airbrushed antics carry no semblance of teenage awkwardness; they get fucked up all the time and it never impacts their studies (which we see them do little to zero of anyway); and they all seem to have a well of unlimited funds for their designer wardrobes and drug dependencies. In their moments of chaos and messiness, their blood, sweat and tears are smeared on a Jeremy Scott or Eckhaus Latta two-piece rather than a £25 ($47 AUD) dress from Topshop. Even in now-cult British teen show Skins – the undeniable blueprint for shows about hedonistic teens getting fucked up for entertainment – the cast still looked like normal teenagers, had acne, braces and ketchup on their hoodies and were skint all the time.
With the arrival of season two, it's a reminder that the reason we love the show is the same reason we love the Yassify Bot – it is absurdist escapism to the max.
The second season of Euphoria hasn’t strayed too much from its original formula. In the opening scene of season two – where we get Fez’s violent backstory – it seems hellbent on pushing the batshit factor even more (you literally see an erect penis 1 minute 33 seconds into the first episode). So what’s new?
Well, ‘yassification’ didn’t exist back in the pre-pandemic summer of 2019 when season one aired, which means that Euphoria’s MTV-on-acid, glam aesthetic feels like it was weirdly prescient of times to come. With the arrival of season two, it’s a reminder that the reason we love the show is the same reason we love the Yassify Bot – it is absurdist escapism to the max. A heavily over-filtered world where hedonism is the highest order and depressing, real-world news – and masks and pandemics – doesn’t exist. As well as sensitively exploring ennui in the suburbs, adrenaline-chasing, drug dependency, the widespread ills of technology, and 2022 nihilism (in the words of Rue: "The world’s coming to an end and I haven’t even graduated high school yet") – all legit issues that teenagers face today – it’s a transportive porthole to slip through. An entertaining sensory overload. And unlike Riverdale, Scream and Cruel Summer, the show feels overtly aimed at adults as much as its Gen Z audience.
From the onset, the show has preferred to lean into its heavier topics, with some controversy surrounding its supposed glamorisation of teenage violence in America. There's no doubt that the increased portrayal of gun violence in the second season will draw further criticism. But nothing about the scenes featuring the latter – or indeed the scenes of drug-taking – seems appealing. All these exaggerated aspects of the show, plus the introduction of even more fourth wall breaks in the second series, serve only to highlight how far removed it is from reality.
Most are well aware that the entire ‘yassification’ trend can be credited to its young queer creators on TikTok, Instagram and Twitter – and Euphoria reflects this, too, more than most of its contemporaries. It has been hailed as one of the most groundbreaking LGBTQ+ shows to date, with its nuanced portrayals of trans and non-binary representation, queer repression, trauma, sexuality and gender identity. The yassification, it would seem, penetrates all levels of the show.
At the end of the day, while the action and aesthetics may be farfetched (none of the students carries a backpack big enough to hold at least one medium-sized textbook or laptop), at its core the show accurately captures the fact that adolescence is painful and dramatic for everyone, whether you’re a glammed-up aspirational baddie or whether you used to slug K Cider at the skate park wearing bootcut jeans, a waist belt and a cropped cardie. The difference is that the cast of Euphoria look snatched while going through it.
Euphoria season two is available to stream on Binge from January 10.