When Euphoria was first playing I wasn’t all that interested. I hadn’t been convinced of Zendaya yet (first seeing her in a terrible Disney programme) and at the time that was enough to put me off. Then on a night I had fallen well and truly down the YouTube rabbit hole I came across a video of Leonardo DiCaprio revealing what he was currently watching – and of course he was watching Euphoria and praised the show. As embarrassing as that is, it is literally the reason I decided to give Euphoria a chance, and how glad am I that I did.
Euphoria is one of, if not the most, confident and stylistically pleasing shows I have ever watched. The whole series has this iridescent finesse through every second of its eight-episode run. The way it takes non-linear, multi-branching storylines and merges them into one seamlessly edited, beautifully shot, and wholly entertaining show is nothing short of spectacular. Many shows lose my attention at points, leading to the occasional glance at the phone or wandering thought, but not this. This grabs your attention and won’t let go.
Euphoria centres on a bunch of teens fumbling their way through the stresses of school, each struggling to balance who they are and who they want to be. The central character, and narrator of this story is Rue (played by Zendaya) a young recovering drug addict who isn’t really keen on the recovering part. My reservations on part of Zendaya were shown here to be unwarranted. I still think she carries similarities from role to role, with the kind of awkward funny teen shtick. Yet considering the storyline, and the individuality of each other character I think it meshes perfectly here. I loved her and hated her as she teetered back and forth from being vulnerable and dependable to desperate and volatile. She ebbs and flows in her performance and confidently makes it her own. This is not to the detriment of the rest of the cast, who are all truly superb. I wouldn’t be surprised if each was allowed to bring some aspects of themselves, as every character is entirely unique, with their own struggles and worries. These characters are in many ways caricatures – The Jock, The Cool Girl, The Shy Girl – but in others they are real, raw and unhinged.
The mania of the teenage mind is entirely embodied through the character’s actions. Sometimes they do stupid things, and they don’t know why. As if they are figuring out who they are as they go along, trying out things here or there to see what they are comfortable with. Although all are also overshadowed by the strains of school reputation, with certain mandates in place that restricts them to their archetypes – like a jock that is unwilling to show true affection in front of others. The way in which the show balances and juggles all the different storylines between characters is enchanting. No one story ever fully takes over from another. It bounces back and forth between them, as everything is happening all the time, whilst also relating to the past of these characters.
The fluid narrative would not work without the stylisation of the show through the use of cinematography and editing. It doesn’t typically work from a scene to scene basis, instead it flows through one narrative, with multiple branches. An episode set during a fair is an excellent example of this, as we duck and weave our way through stalls and rides, picking up on the different characters, each there for their own reasons with their own stories. At times, the style can veer on pretentious, especially towards the latter half of the season. I think some of these moments of intense stylisation would put certain viewers off, but as someone that studied film, I found it completely captivating. Creator Sam Levison had wanted the show to be shot as the teenagers imagine themselves, and Euphoria’s presentation is perfectly emblematic of that.
Working in collaboration with the cinematography and edit is the mesmerising and adaptable soundtrack by Labrinth. It takes multiple different genres of music and meshes them together in a wholly complimentary fashion. They range from classical to RnB to techno. Highlight tracks are the uplifting Forever and When I RIP (a track I’ve had on repeat since the credits rolled). The soundtrack lingers in the mind as much as the show, and I found some tracks bringing back emotions and memories of the scenes they covered.
Euphoria is a purple-tinted sparkling disco ball, not afraid to shine its brightest. It is expressionistic, impressionistic and quite simply, really bloody entertaining. However long it takes, I will be eagerly awaiting the follow-up to the biggest, boldest and bravest show to hit the small screen in years – and I’m sure Leonardo will too.