Scene it: Two years on, I’m still reeling from ‘Euphoria’

Actresses Zendaya and Hunter Schafer touch foreheads in a scene from HBO's "Euphoria."
The engaging plot, nuanced characters and striking visuals of “Euphoria” leave fans excited for season two. (Courtesy: Eddy Chen/HBO)

This article contains spoilers for “Euphoria.”

After an agonizingly long wait with only two special episodes to satiate “Euphoria” fans, season two of the highly acclaimed, Emmy-winning TV show has started filming again. This leaves us until only the end of the year to wrap our heads around what happened in season one.

Glitter, drugs and sex decorate but do not detract from the character depth and substantive plot of “Euphoria.” A gritty addition to the collection of shows utilizing the classic high school drama formula, “Euphoria” manages to incorporate impactful social commentary amidst the soapy plot devices that keep us hooked. 

At times, “Euphoria” is admittedly so provocative it’s almost cheesy. Take, for instance, the infamous locker room scene, which involves a mundane conversation between a group of boys in a high school locker room — and also about a million dicks in a wildly unnecessary bout of nudity. The very nature of the show, so intimately connected with drug addiction and trauma, seeks to shock. 

However, delving past the HBO-ness of “Euphoria” finds a work replete with solid writing and characters. In fact, the characters are what make “Euphoria” shine — that and the eternal presence of strobing lights, of course. Each character adds an absorbing perspective, even if that perspective is highly repulsive, as with the character Nate Jacobs (Jacob Elordi). Most of the characters possess some redeeming mixture of qualities so that, as dramatic and unrealistic as “Euphoria” is, viewers are sure to find some aspects relatable.

Gender and sexuality are two points of focus explored effectively throughout the show. The character Jules Vaughn (Hunter Schafer) is transgender, and while her identity remains a crucial part of her relationships with other characters, Jules has so many layers to her story and her personality. She’s an independent, knife-wielding romantic and at times unlikable force of nature: the quintessential new girl in town. 

The natural fact of being a person with goals and motives not tied exclusively to their gender identity should be commonplace, nondescript even, by now. However, with the noticeably lacking representation of transgender characters in Hollywood, the satisfying writing of Jules’ character still deserves a mention, standing as an example for future media portrayals. 

Also deserving praise is the relationship between Jules and Rue Bennett (Zendaya Coleman). Their gender identities are not a focal point; however, the toxic nature of their relationship keeps us fully engrossed. Substituting drugs for love is a dangerous game, and we feel this inevitable disaster creeping up episode by episode, building in intensity until we are left with a killer cliffhanger on the last episode — the writers know what they’re doing to us. 

Then, there is the sexual awakening of Kat Hernandez (Barbie Ferreira). Viewers get the privilege of watching Kat, initially insecure about her lack of sexual experience and her body image, realize her worth and grow into the accompanying confidence. Furthermore, after accomplishing this thrilling character development, Kat’s character is not finished, as she must come to terms with the fact that confidence and vulnerability are not mutually exclusive.

Brash, unapologetic Maddy Perez (Alexa Demie) is personally my favorite character; she follows no rules but her own, even as she grapples with a host of relationship issues. All of the characters on “Euphoria” are flawed: They have problems; they often do not know how to deal with these problems; and we slowly find ourselves entrenched in the glamorous muck of these problems until the season finale cuts us off.

Speaking of glamorous muck, any discussion about “Euphoria” would not stand complete without acknowledging the makeup and costumes that add so much to the ambience of the show. 

“‘Euphoria’ looks are cultural masterpieces, actually leading current fashion trends instead of showing us what we think high schoolers should stereotypically look like.” —Rorye Jones PO ’23

The importance of such striking makeup and costumes cannot be underestimated: “Euphoria” looks are cultural masterpieces, actually leading current fashion trends instead of showing us what we think high schoolers should stereotypically look like (à la “Riverdale,” the land of washed-up letterman jackets, skinny jeans, ballet flats and blandness). Would today’s high schoolers wear leather BDSM collars combined with a corset and sheer mesh top as they strut down the hallways to class? Maybe not so much. Does Kat look fabulous doing so? Absolutely.

I wish my prom had looked like the one on “Euphoria,” with Jules’ orange and metallic eye moment and Maddy’s glitzy, sheer, rhinestone-down-the-hairline ensemble. In fact, Maddy’s cheerleading makeup spawned a host of online tutorials, and her outfits conceived thousands of replicas of a certain I.AM.GIA crop top and pants combination across the internet. “Euphoria” did not merely reflect fashion; it created fashion, which speaks for itself. 

As spellbinding as the makeup and costumes are, “Euphoria” doesn’t need to lean on its visuals to make up for its content. The costumes function as they should: as embellishment to highlight a show with distinct redeeming qualities. The plot is engaging, the characters exquisitely nuanced — I’ll be waiting for season two with bated breath, and probably dressed like Maddy Perez.

Rorye Jones PO ’23 is TSL’s TV and film columnist. She relishes in dressing from the waist up for Zoom classes and often wishes she could watch “Breaking Bad” for the first time again.

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