I was at the tail end of the day of my high school graduation the first time I took acid. It was the beginning of summer, the solstace was approaching and it seemed like the entire senior class was coming together for the first time in four years. A group of people outside my friend group had the idea to take hallucinogens, and they invited everyone in our grade to partake. By the end of the night, the graduating class looked like the Island of Misfit Toys: an amalgamation of pot heads, preps, theater kids and jocks stoned out of their minds. For the teenagers on the hit HBO Max show “Euphoria,” however, this whole ordeal would just be another Tuesday. By their standards, it would probably be considered mundane. The show’s lead, Rue (Zendaya), who is only a junior in high school, is in the throes of an opiate addiction and has a knowledge of prescription drugs that would floor a pharmacist. Others on the show snort coke in the school bathrooms and take ecstacy at the town fair.
I love drugs as much as the next person, but I could not keep up with the kids on “Euphoria.”
Every person on “Euphoria,” man or woman, is fuckable. No stretch-marks, no braces and not a pimple in sight. A strung-out Zendaya is ten times more attractive than I’ll ever be; even the extras lounging in the background at parties are distractingly sexy. The writers for the show make excellent use of their beautiful cast by stuffing the narrative full of sex scenes, whether they are necessary or not.
A case could be made that the attractiveness of the characters on the show are leveled by the ugly and horrific things they do, often to each other. This is not foreign to me. The despicable nature of humans is exhibited in “Euphoria,” and extravagantly at that, like when Nate Jacobs (Jacob Elordi), the show’s bad boy jock with a troubled past, attempts to blackmail Jules (Hunter Schafer), the show’s deuteragonist, with the implication of the distribution of child pornography.
However, I would posit this degree of toxicity is ubiquitous at every high school in the country. In my own high school years, I saw a full grown man strike his girlfriend to the ground several times over a disagreement about prom. While we all watched in horror and tried to get him to stop, he continued with impunity, and, at the time, it seemed like I was the only concerned onlooker. This was not unlike in the show when Fez (Angus Cloud), the loveable dope-dealer, smashes a full bottle of vodka over the head of Nate Jacobs and beats him while he’s unconscious, the room full of people allowing it to happen. The violence, and treatment of violence, throughout the show is over the top but true to life.
The thing about “Euphoria” I find most refreshing, having grown up in the 2000s, is the diverse representation of a group of high schoolers on television (barring attractiveness, of course). While I still find the cast to be overwhelmingly white, it’s nice to see a breadth of sexuality, whether it’s decadent or not. The breaking of heteronormative tropes is a step in the right direction, though the actual representation of sex in the show could be reduced so that there could be more focus on the development of narrative, plot and character. All you get from the sex scenes are shared awkward moments with whoever you watch the show next to.
That said, I believe “Euphoria” is an entertaining show that parents of high school students should steer clear from so that they don’t get any wrong–or right–ideas.
Art by Ana Watterson