HBO’s brand new drama, Euphoria, gives us an unflinching look at the highs and lows of substance abuse, depression, self-harm, and accepting our own sexuality, along with navigating life as a teenager today. The series and its creator and stars, namely Sam Levinson and Zendaya, have not shied away from the fact that some moments on the show might be difficult to process, let alone keep watching week after week.
But, they’re intent on telling a very specific kind of story when it comes to this group of teens, which means they’re not going to water down what we see on screen just to make it family friendly. To borrow a tagline from another teen show that pushed boundaries in order to start conversations, this show goes there. And per the people behind it, Euphoria is supposed to be realistic.
"There are going to be parents who are going to be totally fucking freaked out," Levinson told The Hollywood Reporter before the show premiered, referencing the fact that many events even just in Euphoria's first episode are things we haven’t seen on TV, well, ever. But just because we haven’t seen them doesn’t mean they’re not real and pulled from actual struggles people are going through nowadays, whether young or old.
While doing press for Euphoria, Levinson has been open and honest about his own substance abuse in the past, explaining that he drew from his own experiences to help craft the show (according to him, the scene in the pilot where Jules [Hunter Schafer] pulls a knife out and cuts herself was actually something Levinson did to avoid a fight).
“I do think it’s important that we as a culture — we as parents, we as brothers and sisters — have empathy for the struggles [people] are going through,” Levinson told Variety, “I think any time you put anything on screen, you run the risk of glamorizing it just by the nature of it being on screen. I don’t want [to be triggering], but we also have to be authentic about it.” It might be hard to grasp that what we’re seeing has not glamorized since on a daily basis many aren’t encountering the struggles seen in Euphoria. But that doesn’t mean they’re not true to some people's experiences.
What Levinson has created is a show, essentially, about a group of teens just dealing with life as best they know, because it’s their life. Still, it should be noted that the activity in the series isn't supposed to be a widespread representation of teens, in general. Consider facts like the CDC's 2018 report that only 29 percent of teens are sexually active and only 19 percent did drugs or drank alcohol before sexual activity. In fact, in 2017, the CDC reported the lowest rates of teens using substances and engaging in sexual activity since 1991.
Shortly before the pilot episode of Euphoria aired, Zendaya shared a message to social media explaining that the show is “a raw and honest portrait of addiction, anxiety and the difficulty of navigating life today,” warning her followers that it might be difficult for many to watch. Zendaya herself has admitted that she was looking for a role to completely shed her post-Disney Channel appearance.
Though the substance abuse (and abuse in general) might be difficult to comprehend as real, at least we all can admit that the kids actually talk like kids, with sentences scatter with likes, ums, and referring to their best girlfriends as “bitches.” Now that’s realistic to today's day and age. That can be attributed back to Levinson, who wrote every episode of the series, and told Entertainment Weekly that he just “wrote [himself].”
“I just wrote myself as a teenager,” he explained. “I think those feelings and memories they’re still extremely accessible to me. So it’s not a hard reach. I just write myself and what I was feeling and what I was going through when I was younger and I was dealing with addiction.”
While Euphoria might not be for everyone, and might even get you to turn off the episode halfway through, it’s certainly more grounded in reality than say, a show about flying dragons and battling an undead army of ice men.