My first reaction, along with disappointment and confusion, at Euphoria star Barbie Ferreira’s sudden announcement last week that she is leaving the HBO show was a feeling of, of course. It’s not because I dislike Ferreira (she’s an incredible actress and her character Kat generated some serious style inspo), and it’s not even because I personally have a contentious relationship with the show; it’s that her exit is only the latest controversy surrounding the show, cast, and creator Sam Levinson. And it’s the latest blip in the HBO series’ long and winding venture to get us to season three. Filming is reportedly set to start early 2023.
And if you just reacted to that sentence with the shudder of realization that “we’re not even at season three yet?!,” then you’re definitely not alone. Because what Ferreira’s departure also made me realize is that, as a viewer, I’m personally exhausted by Euphoria. What started out as a TV juggernaut, a premium example of prestige television, and a vessel for Zendaya’s then largely underserved talent that led to a history-making Emmy win, has quickly become a case study in the shelf life of a hit TV show — and what can happen when a good thing goes very, very bad. Because I’m sorry to say that I think Euphoria, at only two seasons in, has already peaked.
For many people, Ferreira’s exit was shattering because Kat has been the draw of the show and fans quickly noted that Ferreira’s goodbye post on Insta stories seemed to allude that the departure wasn’t her choice. “After four years of getting to embody the most special and enigmatic character Kat, I’m having to say a very teary-eyed goodbye,” she wrote. “I hope many of you could see yourself in her like I did and that she brought you joy to see her journey into the character she is today. I put all my care and love into her and I hope you guys could feel it. Love you Katherine Hernandez.”
First shying from her power when we’re introduced to her character in season one, Kat becomes a beacon of body positivity and sexual liberation. She embraces her body, her sexuality, and comes into herself over the course of the first season. It wasn’t always easy to watch, as most antics that take place in your teen years aren’t, but it was thrilling to see a plus-size character, and actress, be so unabashedly celebrated.
That is, until she wasn’t. While Ferreira’s Kat was a staple in season one, by the second season, her character was essentially non-existent. Instead, both Ferreira and fans were given a completely warped version of the character they’d come to know and love, one who was distant, manipulative, and honestly just straight up cruel. (Seriously, how could she do Ethan like that?). It was a slap in the face to fans who’d been so ride or die for the show and its characters.
But this was just only a small part of the greater issues with the show’s second year. As many critics have pointed out online, the sophomore season just didn’t hit the way the first one did. While the premiere was lauded for its realistic depiction of addiction, the second season was touted as “frustrating and exhausting,” with a finale that was “overwhelming” because it had lost sight of what it does best: getting at the emotional turmoil at the root of each and every one of its characters. For many, myself included, the pace and franticness of the drama and violence was quite literally debilitating. And it became a substitute and cover for storylines that actually resonated with audiences. Earlier this year, CBC’s Pop Chat writer Amil Niazi dug into the ways that the show seemingly uses violence gratuitously as a way to gain acclaim as “prestige” TV, questioning what remains when you remove the trauma, and if it’s anything of substance. “After you take away the violence and the sex and the extremes, what’s left? And is it actually really prestigious? Is it actually really good?” Niazi asked. “I feel like the pendulum is maybe swinging towards no.”
It’s difficult to live up to a critically acclaimed first season, but to be honest, a bad second season is the least of the series’ worries. Because the biggest drama took place behind the scenes, between show creator Sam Levinson and some of the cast. By the time the second season premiered in January, rumors circled that the reason for Ferreira’s limited role was tension between her and Levinson after the pair didn’t agree on the direction of Kat’s storyline. While there are rumors that Levinson wanted to give the character an eating disorder, they have not been confirmed. Refinery29 has reached out to HBO for comment.
Earlier this year, actress Sydney Sweeney also revealed that there were supposed to be more nude scenes in the series, specifically pertaining to her character Cassie. Sweeney said she requested Levinson remove the scenes from the show, and Levinson did. Sweeney has since gone on to say during Variety’s “Actors on Actors” series that she “never felt uncomfortable” when shooting these scenes. Actress Minka Kelly, who played Samantha in the second season, spoke to Vanity Fair about her experience pushing back against nudity with her character. Like with Sweeney, Kelly says Levinson amended the scene, but the incidents brought up questions over whether so much nudity of high school teens, and just in general, was necessary in the first place.
Add to this the fact that, thanks to COVID, time between seasons has been slow to say the least, giving time for viewers to lose interest and for not-so-favorable information to start coming out about some of the show’s leading ladies. In August, star Hunter Schafer was called out for liking a social media post that blamed non-binary people for the lack of medical care accessible to trans people. (Schafer has yet to comment on the post and reactions) And after Ferreira announced her departure, comments from Reddit users began circulating that the star had an old Tumblr account on which she’d previously used racist slurs.(Ferreira has not publicly addressed them, and any posts have been deleted.) And just this week, netizens attacked Sydney Sweeney for throwing a hoedown-themed birthday party for her mom, where attendees were pictured wearing “Blue Lives Matter” shirts and riffs on Trump’s “Make American Great Again” hats.
Regardless of whether or not the reports about Levinson and stars like Sydney Sweeney are accurate (both Sweeney and Ferreira have denied any conflict and Sweeney has issued a comment regarding assumptions about her family being Trump supporters), it doesn’t really matter — at least not in the court of public opinion. There are only so many times you can make excuses for a fave TV show or actors that continue to be in the news, and not for anything good. (I should know, as potentially the only remaining Riverdale Stan up to this season). And with Euphoria, the hits just keep piling up, all the while we as fans continue to wait for a season that has a lot of ground to make up for.
The debate over the appropriate longevity of a TV series is one that has been upended and changed by the uptake in one-season series. Shows like Big Little Lies, Sharp Objects, and The Undoing (so, essentially anything with Nicole Kidman in it) often have sharp, digestible stories that are created and meant to run for only a limited amount of time. Full stop. But Euphoria’s continuous and very public breakdown glaringly begs the question of when enough is enough. And how much will we suck dry an idea, concept, or work of art in the name of money? How far will we take it when there’s a toxic (at the worst) or questionable (at the very least) work environment? Is 90 minutes a week of “prestige” TV really worth it?
It remains to be seen what the third season of Euphoria will be like — or if, at this rate, it’ll ever see the light of day — but I can’t say that I’ll be tuning in if it does.