Uneven and Turbulent Teen Dream
I used to be a drug addict. Every weekend I’d hook up with a group of friends, we’d phone our drug dealer, wait for him to arrive on his bike and buy ecstacy and whatever else he had at the time. We’d then head up to my friend’s flat, get high and dance the night away.
I felt invincible, like the world couldn’t touch me whilst my life slowly began to descend around me as I devoted my entire life around the next weekend and my next fix. Anyone who wasn’t involved with the drugs didn’t understand and simply wasn’t worth my time. It was both the best and worst time of my life and after struggling to get clean, looking back I wouldn’t change any of it, given it’s made me who I am today.
With this in mind then, it’s always tricky to watch shows that depict drug addicts, having been through that myself. HBO’s latest teen-drama Euphoria is an unfiltered, sex and drug fueled look at the lives of several teenagers that both excels and falters in equal doses to deliver an uneven pilot that can’t quite decide who it wants to appeal to or what message it wants to share.
Narrated by main character Rue Bennet, the show begins with a look at her past life and descent into depression, with an increasing reliance on drugs and alcohol as she reaches her teenage years. The summer before Junior year was spent in rehab but she had no intention of staying clean. After getting out, Rue then continues to do drugs before we cut out and follow Nate as he drives along, taunting a girl on a bike who happens to be another character we’re following this year called Jules.
Jules happens to live in the suburbs but is new to the neighbourhood, finding solace in her friend Kat whom she texts after trying to find a hook-up with a stranger for the night on her phone. Her text to Kat then jumps perspectives to a group of girls, one of which being Nate’s ex as they prepare for the upcoming party.
From here, we then jump back to Rue again as she arrives home late with her Mum berating her for leaving. She’s forced to do a urine test to prove shes clean but before she does, she heads to her friends’ house to get a fresh sample.
Jules then hooks up with a married man who we learn the true identity of later in the episode while Nate starts his party. A group of topless guys huddle around Chris McKay’s phone, sharing nudes of a girl called Cassie which causes him to feel uncomfortable and awkward. Later that night though, he hooks up with Cassie and things get heavy, leading to him becoming rough and choking her; a nod toward one of the themes of the episode around substituting intimate sex for imitating porn.
As we jump back to Rue, we see her taking drugs before stumbling out into the hallway. In one of the most iconic and gorgeous shots on TV this year, we see the hallway rotate in a full 360 degree angle while she scrambles up the walls and ceiling before touching the ground again. She stumbles downstairs but the camera defiantly steers away from her, traveling into a room with Kat and three boys smoking weed. Struggling to fight against peer pressure and ridicule, she tells the boys she’s not a virgin and she’s pressured into taking her top off.
Nate then calls off the party upon seeing his ex hooking up with someone else but when he enters the kitchen again, he sees Jules whom he takes his frustration out on. He questions why she’s there and threatens her, prompting her to antagonise him with a knife before rushing out, where she comes face to face with Rue. They head home together while we see our main characters sleep.
Aside from the message that drugs tear families apart, there isn’t a whole lot to really cling to here. Despite the episode gravitating around Rue and her drug addiction, I’d actually argue this was the weakest part of the pilot. This descent into chaos was much better depicted in the feature film Thirteen and to me, Zendaya doesn’t quite nail the right level needed to showcase her as an addict.
There isn’t much to the story this early on either but the way we cut across to the various characters, although initially messy and unpredictable, is actually unique and really fits in nicely with the design of the show. The production and sets throughout the episode are top notch too, with gorgeous cinematography typified by the stunning rotating shot mentioned earlier.
Euphoria then is really a show of two halves. Whilst visually stunning, the show lacks the big hook to keep you invested in this one for the long-term but there’s just enough intrigue to keep you coming back to find out what happens next. The show is really nicely shot too and the pilot does just enough to introduce the characters and end things on a suitably intriguing note to keep you coming back to find out what happens. It’s not perfect, but the foundation is here for the story to kick into high gear and deliver something really memorable. Whether it will or not, remains to be seen.