REVIEW: Euphoria Complete Seasons 1 + 2
Any parent who somehow finds themselves watching HBO’s addictively compelling Euphoria must pray their children know no one like Rue or are raising anyone like her. The series, which debuted in 2019 just as the world locked down, has only grown in popularity. My high school students, apparently, didn’t trip over it until season two arrived earlier this year. Given the higher profile and awards it has justly earned, HBO has combined the two seasons onto DVD for home consumption, no subscription required.
Rue, played with a rawness by Zendaya, is a 17-year-old whose life began to spiral out of control after the death of her father. Alcohol, drugs, and sex were combined in varying quantities as she sought a balm, but repeated attempts at rehab proved futile. As the show’s narrator, Rue shows us her pessimistic outlook on life and helplessness; without a real sense she’s seeking redemption or salvation.
In her circle of friends, we have others who have their own issues, giving series creator Sam Levinson (who gave us an all-American spin on the Israeli series of the same name) a chance to fully explore the issues confronting today’s youth. The series is stunningly cast with the ensemble delivering captivating performances, which explains why Zendaya, Sydney Sweeney, Colman Domingo, and Martha Kelly all received two Emmy nominations each, with the series star winning twice.
People drop in and out of her orbit depending on Rue’s needs or absences, beginning with her best friend Lexi (Maude Apatow), who seeks to find her voice and get out from under the shadow of her older, sexier sister Cassie (Sweeney). Cassie is trying to correct her life after sexual promiscuousness and has learned some harsh life lessons early.
Perhaps the most sympathetic character in her circle is the newly arrived Jules (Hunter Schafer), a transgender girl who enters a turbulent romance with Rue, and they almost run away together, but when that doesn’t pan out, things grow tense. Jules has other issues, including having had sex with Cal Jacobs (Eric Dane), father of Cassie’s ex Chris (Algee Smith), who has a habit of recording his conquests, masking a deeper issue that surfaces in season two.
Rue takes her issues out on everyone, each a means to a particular end, all in service to end her pain. Zendaya’s bravest performance may be seen in season two’s “Stand Still Like the Hummingbird” when she lashes out at everyone, including her younger sister Gia (Storm Reid) and mother Leslie (Nika King). Her acting is subtle and demonstrates the impressive range, from the quiet contemplative “Trouble Don’t Last Always”, where she sits in a diner with her sponsor Ali (Colman Domingo) to “Hummingbird” where the pain and snot come out in equal amounts of anguish.
The show filled the Covid-19 gap with two one-hour specials, the first focusing on Rue and Ali and the second on Jules in therapy. Both work as standalone dramas while providing important insight into the characters.
It should be noted the parents get placed in a harsh spotlight as well. It’s not just Cal who does damage since Cassie and Lexi’s mom Suze (Alanaa Ubach), visibly has a handy glass of wine, ready for the next one.
The other adults round out the perspectives with Ali an interesting ally to Rue and drug dealer Fezco (Angus Cloud), forming an unexpectedly deep friendship with Lexi.
While other shows about teens range from the banal (Saved by the Bell) to the absurd (Riverdale) to the almost believable (Sex Education), this one is all about exploring the darker side of the teenage experience with few moments of genuine joy and almost no emphasis on being students preparing for their future as adults. Their learning is happening nowhere near school but the homes, bedrooms, and back alleys of their world.
The sixteen episodes plus two specials are included on five DVD discs which look fine but one wishes for at least Blu0ray to capture all the subtitles of the gray world they live in. The Special Features all come from HBO’s broadcast of the series, including “Euphoria in Conversation: Zendaya and Sam Levinson”; Storyboard to Scene; Euphoria Scene Breakdown; Euphoria Unfiltered: Zendaya; “Enter ‘Euphoria’”; “Enter Euphoria’ Part 1: Rue”; “Enter Euphoria Part 2: Jules”; “Euphoria: The Craft”; “Costumes of Euphoria”, and Euphoria Set Tour with Sydney Sweeney.