This past summer HBO released their newest TV show and what seems to be the new millennial muse, “Euphoria.” The show revolves around a 17-year-old Rue (played by Zendaya) as she struggles with a severe addiction to narcotics as well as a slew of mental illnesses. Fresh out of rehab, Rue clearly has no plans to stay sober and struggles to keep her head above the fray.
Probably the most unique aspect of this show is the secondary character, Jules. Jules is played by Hunter Schafer, a transgender New York runway model and actress. Schafer’s character in the TV show also identifies as transgender and she is involved in the TV shows complex web of a love triangle which drives the conflict of the series. Trans representation in television media is wildly scarce. Casting a trans actress to play such a major role in the show is unheard of today and it’s refreshing to see HBO take this necessary step towards equal representation in the media.
Another unique aspect of the show is the cinematography. There are several scenes in which the characters are using heavy hallucinogens and the cinematography draws the viewer right into the experience with the characters. Glitter tears, minimal lighting and utilization of shadows all play into the Indie style cinematography of such scenes.
The way the show is written also mirrors this same Indie style. The show covers numerous popular topics of controversy in today’s society including intimate partner violence, sexuality, abuse, sexual assault, body image insecurities and, of course, drug addiction. It seems overwhelming to try to capture all of these heavy topics into one eight episode series, but Euphoria found a way. The characters struggle in a very real way, without being fantasized or unrealistic, another rare thing to come by.
Schafer’s costume designer also broke traditional barriers. Jules is often seen in KPOP inspired chunky boots, tennis skirts, colored hair extensions, abstract colorful makeup and layered jewelry. The makeup for all of the female characters in the show is also unusual to say the least. The characters often sported mass amounts of glitter, press-on diamonds and bright eyeshadow.
I could go on and on about all the reasons why the show is unique visually and worth the watch just for that reason alone, but the content is just as good. Zendaya’s character discloses her extensive mental health record of inconsistent diagnoses and a plethora of medication and doctors. In combination with literally watching her father slowly die and a difficult relationship with her mother, Rue struggles to find a way to stay sober for herself. She continues to hide her struggles from friends, family and her own AA group until she befriends Jules who inspires her to get better for herself.
Critics of the show claim that it tries to tackle too many big issues all at once, but I see that as a positive characteristic of the show. It’s not uncommon in the real world for one problem to trigger another one until you have a snowball effect of negativity and pain in your life and the show depicts just that.