The first season of Euphoria was a polarizing revelation in that critics just couldn’t seem to agree on whether there actually was any real substance behind the aesthetically powerful and absorbing staging, or was it merely another exercise in exhibitionism. But then, Covid tipped the scales as recording had to be interrupted for a year, and to keep the series alive, showrunners devised two short-format episodes, almost bordering on monologues, to showcase the dramatic tour-de-force Sam Levinson was capable of bringing to the screen, even renouncing his hallmark sophisticated camera movement and cinematic lighting.
Now, with the return of the teen drama, the show has greatly benefitted from those two episodes, which added considerably to the two main characters’ baggage: Rue (played by Zendaya) and Jules (Hunter Schafer). Episode one of season two shows them adrift, looking for each other at a chaotic and packed New Year’s Eve party, bathing in colored lights and all-encompassing music, Levinson can afford to offer a mute expressionist portrait knowing that viewers are already familiarized with both characters baggage and as such the empathy comes automatically and profoundly.
The idea behind Euphoria is to depict the harshest face of the conflicts faced by those of the so-called generation Z, born at the dawn of the 21st century. Drugs, sex and violence play a prominent role and even more so, hyperbolic. The situations narrated are almost all in the extreme and the in episode one of this latest batch, we learn the childhood story of drug-trafficker Fez who raised by his grandmother, also a drug trafficker, the woman arrives home one day with a one-month-old baby in arms that has been deposited as security for a drug payment. Suffice to say, the baby’s parents never come back to collect the child who, inevitably becomes involved in the family business of drug-running from as early as preadolescence. Given that the show has acquired a certain reputation for the provocative, the stakes are also high in the realms of sex, especially due to the lack of modesty when it comes to showing genitalia in the foreground, including a remarkable collection of erect members.
Those who point the finger claiming the script is frayed are not entirely wrong and with the exception of the two stand-alone episodes that came out a year ago, there are no major revelations in the dialogues here. Often, in fact, they convey the emptiness of the characters or, to be more precise, the inability to articulate a coherent account of what happens to them and what they feel. That said, the series excels when it comes to transmitting their moods and commits heavily to sensory stimulation, thereby distancing itself from the show’s common denominator, where the script reigns supreme, to delve deeper into cinematic realms, understood here as a symphony of images in time. Only here it is not a symphony, but the frenetic and syncopated soundtrack packed with disco beats, as well as classics form soundtrack melodrama. The first episode alone features some twenty tunes with everything from Billy Swan to 2Pac, to the O’Jays and The Notorious B.I.G.
Despite the abundance of extreme situations, and according to series’ showrunners, the intention here is to shed some light on the situation for teenagers, showing them that even in their lowest hours they are not alone as there are others experiencing similar adversity to accompany them. There is a clear desire to understand the characters and as such viewers are given snippets of their past, making us privy to their backstory throughout the series, not to relieve them of any individual responsibility, on this point the series is quite explicit, but rather to emphasize the importance of context when it comes to some young people enjoying greater opportunity than others, an issue of great moral significance. We sense a background of graciousness and nobility in the violent Fez, while Rue, the very incarnation of vulnerability, reveals his innermost and darkest origins. Even still, the script still has several leaks when it comes to the tension and moments of humor that border on the slapstick, however, this shift into the realms of greater murkiness casts a shadow of irony of the show’s title, Euphoria.
Those seeking authenticity and realism probably won’t be binging on season two and if you haven’t seen the earlier episodes, can be difficult to follow. But watchers willing to accept the challenge to enter this unique visual universe without asking too many questions, and ultimately obeying the recommendation of Hitchcock, will continue to enjoy this emotional and fast-paced roller coaster ride that looks at the youngest of the young without paternalism and, at the same time, with genuinely profound empathy.