Warning: Mild spoilers ahead.
Particularly in this day and age, people like to discuss what they are currently watching on T.V. I say particularly in this day and age, and I specify “currently”, because we’ve passed the time when there is a “TV season” of sorts that lasts from the fall through the spring and then you’re stuck watching either a handful of summer shows or reruns. The advent of streaming services and On Demand means that at any given time you could be at the beginning, middle, or end of your ingestion of a brand new show, whether it is still running, just ended, or has long since gone to the TV heaven in the sky (sup Twin Peaks?).
Perhaps the most satisfying part of discussing T.V is suggesting a show to a friend, having them actually watch it, and then having them actually enjoy. If you go 3/3 then that is legitimately cathartic, but convincing someone to allow your suggestion to skip their predictably endless queue is a reward in itself. But it’s a tricky science, there’s some salesmanship involved. The sugestee has to be willing and the suggestor has to have enough of a hook to make the show worth giving a shot to. Indeed I’ve tried in vain to convince my own EIC to watch Peaky Blinders for years now to no avail.
A common question one might receive when suggesting a T.V show is “what is it like?” Someone asking this is looking for a reference point. An example in their memory bank they can leverage to determine if said program is worth taking time out of their busy schedule to indulge in. And this is where I get to the point of the blog. Because although shows like Euphoria have come along before, it indeed has its unique qualities, most notably in the production and presentation, that makes the “what is it like?” question an interesting one.
Firstly, to get this out there, we don’t, and won’t stick to T.V here with these comparisons, to use the plural of “comparison” should I ever play this game again. It’s fair game to reference movies as well. As the only difference, from 1,000 ft., is the amount of time those involved wish to take to tell a story. Cool? Cool.
But with that said, to bring up past showcases of teenage disenchantment, struggles, issues, and longing, we should start with a couple of small screen predecessors all the same. While I don’t see a ton of similarities with the two big names from the 90’s, Freaks and Geeks and My So Called Life, they did feature female leads who are sort of outcasts, and of course totally over it. That sarcasm that evokes the 90s never went away, particularly when it involves teenage girls. There are some tiny similarities between Euphoria and The O.C, in terms of economic status being a key pillar of high school coolness, but that could be said of legit 50% of T.V and movies that focus on human interaction. Then there is Degrassi, which Euphoria has been compared to a lot. I just don’t see it. While the long-running Canadian show was possibly the first to dive into issues as deep as teenage domestic violence, the entire feeling of the show wastoo sentimental, at least to me. As I’ll get to later, Euphoria isn’t want to sentimentality.
In terms of having a couple of characters from each archetype represented and explored, it is easy to start out on the movie side of things with “The Breakfast Club”. I see a lot of the Hughes classic in Euphoria. The major difference of course is while the new HBO hit deals with substance abuse, sexuality, and volatile relationships, the ultimate 80’s movie dealt with angst and pretty much angst only. It’d be too easy to look at a movie like Thirteen and make connections. That movie, however, did not aspire to find hope the way Euphoria does.
So where does that leave us?
If you asked me, Joseph of the House Ballgame, Scriber of the Outrageous, Fighter of the Inanimate, the “what is it like?” question, I’d bring up two examples.
2. “Rules Of Attraction”
If you’ve read any of my stuff or have seen my avatar, you know I’m an ardent fan of Skins, the mid-00’s to early 10’s anthology about the life of hard-partying, harder-loving teenagers in Bristol, England. I describe it to friends as a more blue-collar, degenerate, debaucherous version of the The O.C, but that is just simplify things for an ignorant audience. Skins consisted of three pairs of two season (plus an odd “where are they now”-ish season). Each consisted of an (almost) entirely new cast, centered around a group of (sometimes unlikely) friends in their last two years of high school. They drank. They fucked. They loved. They hated. It got both really real and completely over the top, to speak from the perspective of someone who has been through high school before. Where it really intersects with Euphoria is where it uses a single character for the centerpiece of each episode, seeing the events of that episode through their lens and allowing the audience to feel their feelings. Due to the fact that it was located in Europe and not the US, and Europeans are in fact not pussies, it also dove into issues much more problematic for audiences to process. From abuse, to abandonment, to eating disorders, to substance abuse, to mental illness WELL BEFORE it became such a common topic, Skins feared no unturned stone. It also had a way of being honest with who its characters were. Even when complete assholes were given redemption stories, the show never shied away from the fact that they were indeed still assholes.
“Rules Of Attraction” may have come as a bit of a curve ball on my list of two comparisons. Mostly because it is about college students. However, it does share a couple of common elements with Euphoria. The first is that like Skins, it focuses in on a character at a time, dissecting them down to the marrow. You see what led them to that moment in time, the good and the bad. Whether you want to know or not.
The second part of what makes the Bret Easton E;lis adaptation so similar to Euphoria, at least for me, is a bit more nuanced. Despite the hope and dare I say underlying inspiration that Euphoria seemingly wants to purvey at times, it also presents. in my opinion, its character breakdowns in a cold, clinical way. These are their backgrounds, these are their traits. These are their flaws, that probably won’t be fixed. Not matter how sad, how terrifying. How fatal. “Rules Of Attraction” features the same, emotionless description of the players involved, though perhaps with even a hint of menace.
So at this point you’re probably asking yourself why the hell you should watch this show. To see the youth of today in such turmoil can’t possibly be a source of entertainment can it?
Yes, yes it can.
To more fully flesh out the plot, Euphoria is told through the voice of Rue, a Jr. in high school who takes us through her struggle to get and try and stay sober (opiates is implied as her drug of choice) by describing the lives and circumstances of a number of her as mentioned archetyped high school classmates, only a few months removed from a near fatal overdose. How she weaves her tale of High School’s complicated universe and ties it all back to her own life and harrowing journey is where the magic lies. Is she telling us all this because she sees a little of herself in everyone? Is she worried that she might? Or is she embittered that they all think they have it so bad but none have it as bad as her? I know, teenagers, amirite?
There’s something to be said of all options, for as in depth as Rue examines her peers, she allows us to see her own self examination as well – the losses she’s suffered, her undefined sexuality, her vacillation between apathy and deeply caring about her sobriety. Most of the time you can’t help but care for kid. But sometimes, ya, she’s kind of an asshole.
The show builds and progresses well, although it eschews episode-to-episode cliffhangers for slower builds and mid-installment twists and conclusions. You’ll be happy for Rue and her crew one moment, especially best friend and possible love interest, trans free spirit Jules, and you’ll be crushed and afraid for them the next.
Euphoria has been picked up for a seasons 2 and as I hear the actress that plays Rue’s stock is skyrocketing it could be last which is a shame. I don’t get why they had to end Skins (fucking Brits letting the ratings drop more than all that tea probably. Zinggggg). There’s no reason they can’t morph Euphoria itself into a similar anthology-type show should the Rue character not be sustainable. That said, HBO is not as attached to long runs the way Showtime is so that isn’t probable. But I digress. Watch the damn show. Feel some feels. Maybe you went through some similar shit or maybe you observed it from afar. Either way maybe you’ll learn something about yourself, in hindsight.