Zendaya’s return to TV is marked by the emergence of the controversial new HBO show, “Euphoria.” “Euphoria” is a guilty delight, immersed in a world full of irresistible drama, flashing lights, and an ignominious tumble into the chaotic world of its main character, Rue who struggles with drug addiction. It is a show that satiates viewers only incrementally, leaving us staring at a blank screen after the season finale with a voracious appetite for more (which, ironically enough, is how drugs work).
Rue is, in many ways, a character who is both vastly different from the quintessential teenager and incredibly similar. Her struggle with addiction is one of the main plotlines of the show, and it is heartbreaking, raw and holds nothing back, highlighting the struggles her mother and sister go through as they witness Rue’s battle. Zendaya’s acting shines through the character of Rue, ripping away the cookie-cutter roles she had before, and revealing the expert actor underneath.
Rue’s struggle with addiction sidelines the drama of her classmates. Her best friend, Jules, is a transgender woman, who struggles with her attraction towards Nate, the school jock who embodies toxic masculinity. “Euphoria” is unique because each character is no cliché. The school jock himself struggles with his sexuality, raised by a father who expected masculinity and no less. This struggle takes the form of physical and emotional abuse that Nate inflicts on his girlfriend, Maddy, a popular cheerleader. “Euphoria” reveals the ugliness of abusive relationships through Nate and Maddy, and how addicting they can be to those involved, unable to exit, stuck in the futility of what others tell them is healthy. This struggle is real, and is a reality modern couples face today. Maddy herself describes exactly what it feels like to be part of an abusive relationship, “I'm just saying, love is a million things. Sometimes it feels good and sometimes it doesn't. The one thing I know is that Nate loves me no matter what. He'd f*cking kill for me, and I'd kill for him” (1). “Euphoria” expertly paints a relationship where both individuals are deeply troubled, and this trauma explodes into abuse each inflicts on the other—a relationship that anyone who has witnessed abuse will recognize.
The show also delves into the story of Kat, a plus woman’s journey into entering the world of online dominatrixes, with her transformation being a captivating scene. Kat’s character goes through the modern tribulations every teenager will recognize, from body shaming to porn revenge. Her rebuttal to the school principal, who found a video posted without Kat’s permission involving sexual activities, reveals just how well “Euphoria” depicts the modern teenage life: “You know, it’s one thing for my classmates to body shame me, but for you, Principal Hayes, that’s just a whole other thing. It’s degrading. It’s discriminatory. And it just goes to show how insidious, and systemic body terrorism truly is in this country” (1).
“Euphoria” is raw, stripped and completely bare when it comes to revealing how tumultuous the life of the modern teenager can be. Drug addiction, abusive relationships, sexism, racism, transphobia, questioning one’s sexuality, toxic masculinity, body shaming, revenge porn, sex, catfishing, BDSM, violence—you name it—”Euphoria” has it. The show is the expert embodiment of what the modern, Generation Z individual witnesses in a riotous world, with the eclectic beats and the smooth notes of hip-hop telling an irresistible story that has been told before, and has been heard before, by all of us.