Thursday 4 July 2019

The Pilot Episode of Euphoria Isn't Very Euphoric (But That Doesn't Mean It's Not Good)

The Pilot Episode of Euphoria Isn't Very Euphoric (But That Doesn't Mean It's Not Good)

Euphoria is HBO’s latest show, starring Zendaya as 17-year-old Rue Bennett, returning to her family after being admitted to rehab. Despite the title implying joy and ecstasy,  the show is far from out.

According to HBO, “Euphoria follows a group of high school students as they navigate love and friendships in a world of drugs, sex, trauma, and social media.”  The description provided is very much a downplayed version of the show itself, or the pilot episode at least, that recently aired. Sure, the description introduces all the themes explored in the episode, but it doesn’t prepare you for the imagery and scenes that assist in exploring these aspects. 

There are definitely a variety of other shows out there that cover the same topics. So why am I writing about this? Euphoria has stood out to me. It’s brought to the table something that I think is significant and needs to be addressed - navigating life as an adolescent, in high school specifically, with a vast range of external factors that can influence you whilst learning about your own self. 

The first episode alone introduced issues that many would find relevant, but have become taboo topics, such as:
  • Mental health
  • Substance abuse
  • Healthy/unhealthy relationships
  • Sex and intimacy
  • Self-esteem and body image
  • Digital age - including use of social media, dating apps and pornography
It also explores more familiar themes such as family ties, love, trust, morality and loss. 

Euphoria is hard to watch. It’s confronting and shocking, and initially I found it to be the reason why I like this show. It didn't shy away from showcasing issues that many would rather pretend didn't exist and that ignoring it could make it go away. Generally, mass media representations of any of these topics are quite negative and promote the need for further control and prohibition. Instead, Euphoria addresses the why. Why do adolescents resort to substance abuse? Why do they commit to relationships that produce more harm than happiness? Why do they submit to peer pressure? And on, and on, and on. The show tries to address these questions because no one else ever seems to want to.  Most of the time we align kids, teenagers, young adults who are "troubled" as "deviant" and require punishment rather than trying to understand what has reduced them to being identified as just their actions. Understanding the why can provide answers to how - how to intervene and help.

The show does feel like it bundles together all these topics, put them under a microscopic lens and enhances them. It feels sensationalised for the sake of entertainment, but despite the first episode covering a variety of issues, it's not as far fetched as many other drama shows tend to be. Real life people do have the same experiences as the characters on the show. It’s absolutely terrifying to even consider let alone acknowledge but the problems are there. Rather than ignoring them, as a community, we should be encouraging younger people to speak up about these real life topics.

My only criticism though, and why I might reconsider watching every episode in detail, is that, despite being about teenagers in high school, I'm not sure the show is suited for teenagers. There is a lot of nudity, drug and alcohol taking, sex scenes and other scenes that may trigger trauma in individuals. I felt super uncomfortable 30 seconds to 1 minute into the second episode with the amount of nudity involved.

Euphoria is attempting to be different. It's attempting to stir reactions and create some noise amongst the heavy proliferation of images and videos of drugs, sex and violence in the media that young people have to navigate through. I appreciate its effort, I really do. There are 3 episodes out already and I will mull over as to whether I will continue to watch the show, for the sake of seeing how successful the show is at raising awareness and addressing these important themes. The website does offer support resources, which I love to see with any show that wants to create social justice change.

You can stream Euphoria on HBO for free or through Foxtel Showcase (in Australia).

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