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Let’s Talk About Euphoria | Cup of Jo

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Let's Talk About Euphoria | Cup of Jo

Have you watched Euphoria? The HBO series premiered in June 2019, and since then, its popularity has spread like wildfire. Ever since the start of season two this January, Sundays are no longer just Sundays. They’re Euphoria Sundays. A whopping 13.2 million viewers watched the season two premiere, and now every week we tune in to see what new chaos greets the beautiful, hilarious and complex students of East Highland High School.

When I first heard about the show, I assumed that because its protagonists were high schoolers, the target audience would be high schoolers. But soon I realized that the HBO phenomenon, with its grainy cinematography and suspenseful storylines, has caught the attention of viewers of all ages.

So, I reached out to six women, from age 19 to 45, to hear their thoughts on what feels hyper-exaggerated, what keeps them coming back, and what storylines strike close to home…

Warning: Below are show spoilers. Also, some of this content covers drug addiction.

PHOEBE, 20, Northfield, Minnesota
Word she’d use to describe Euphoria: Drippy
Character she wishes she could be: Jules
Could she survive Eastland High? “I can’t tell because the characters don’t go to school.”

“I appreciate how seriously the show treats high schoolers. The characters are shown as glamorous, not vapid like in movies like Mean Girls. Everyone has problems, and characters aren’t fully good or bad. Seeing characters who do really messed up things but still have people who fight for them — like Rue with her addiction and her family — makes me feel that you’re still lovable even if you make mistakes.

“Many of the scenes are super dramatized but still ring true. In season two, Kat knows Ethan is a good guy, but she doesn’t fully like him and isn’t sure why. And how far Cassie goes to get validation from guys; I relate to her need to be seen.

“But even then, every time I watch the show, something feels off because there is so much trauma in each episode. It makes me feel like they don’t trust me as a viewer to keep coming back unless they have an insane amount of gore and sex. I think the best way to watch Euphoria is to enjoy the teenage drama plots (which are addictive and fascinating) and accept the ridiculousness of everything else.

“Right now, the characters have all betrayed each other in the worst ways. I have no idea how the show will bring them back together at the end of the season, but I cannot wait to see.”

*****

ADRIANNA, 19, Phoenix
Word she’d use to describe Euphoria: Eye-opening
Character she wishes she could be: Maddy
Could she survive Eastland High? “We’ve all witnessed something similar to that [shown] at Eastland High, but what we’ve witnessed is not as dramatic.”

“I grew up watching Zendaya on Disney, so I was interested to see her in a different element. When I saw the first episode, it was extreme. But the visuals are beautiful, and Zendaya’s acting in this role shows how talented and versatile she is.

“The show can be emotional, especially for those who can relate to addiction or domestic abuse. In episode 5 of season two, Rue relapses and argues with her mom and sister. I’ve heard people say the show glorifies drug use, but I believe it highlights what drug addiction can do to relationships with family, friends and partners.

“My favorite character is Maddy. I love the actress Alexa Demie and her style. She’s been called an ‘It Girl’ lately, and it’s cool to see a Latina be an It Girl in the media. Her character is loyal and has it somewhat together. Some people say she comes off as bitchy, but it’s because she needs to defend herself. It’s never malicious. And the season two ‘Maddy vs. Cassie’ storyline definitely happens in real life. It’s crazy that Nate can see a future with Cassie right away compared to Maddy. It shows how men find their long-term fantasy with a white woman compared to a woman of color. The song Your Best American Girl by Mitski describes what I’m talking about so well.

“Race wise, I feel like the show could be more diverse. There should be more darker skinned women, and I wish they would touch more on Maddy being Mexican American and Kat’s Brazilian culture. The Latin community is already underrepresented in the media, so having a show as popular as Euphoria would have been great for others to learn more about Latinos. Also, the show could better treat sexual representation. Throwing Elliot in the middle of Rue and Jules’s relationship fetishizes lesbians and is queer baiting. So, I feel like Sam Levinson can do better on that.”

*****

ANDREA, 30, San Jose, California
Word she’d use to describe Euphoria: Generational
Character she wishes she could be: Lexi
Could she survive Eastland High? “I couldn’t even last in a regular high school these days.”

“I cannot wait for Sundays. My favorite part of the show is Rue’s storyline. Kids nowadays can get drugs so easily. So, seeing Rue’s character, and how the loss of her dad affected her, and her struggling between being in love and being an addict, wanting to get better but not, it’s really hard to hate someone like that.

“I feel like the most realistic thing about the show is how chaotic teenagers’ lives are. For example, Nate and Maddy’s relationship shows the confusion of hormones. One minute, they’re like, ‘I love you,’ and the next minute, ‘I hate you.’ And in season two, Cassie is a hot mess. She is sleeping with her best friend’s ex-boyfriend but also saying things like, ‘Oh my god, I love my best friend, I would never hurt her.’ And the way high schoolers dress is so different from how I dressed in high school. Today 15-year-old girls wear short shorts and crop tops, and it’s awesome because they’re not censoring themselves.

“As far as representation, the show started in a good place. Zendaya is Black, and Maddy is Latina. You have Jules, who is a trans girl, but they’re not advertising her or shoving it in your face. And Kat is a plus-sized girl who fits in with all the cool girls. I identify with her because I was always the bigger, taller girl hanging with the ‘in crowd.’ They’re being inclusive yet being organic about it.

“Watching the show has inspired me to not judge. You never know what people are going through; you only see the surface.”

*****

PAOLA, 31, L.A.
Word she’d use to describe Euphoria: Emotional
Character she wishes she could be: Lexi
Could she survive Eastland High? “Hell no. I couldn’t hang.”

“I really like season two, when Maddy and Cassie get a bigger storyline. I love how Maddy is a strong, confident Latina, who is not gonna back down, but is also a little scared and unsure. But sometimes I wonder if Maddy is being written as a typical Latina stereotype. With her character, you could immediately think, ‘Oh, she’s a sassy Latina.’ I wonder if the use of stereotypes is intentional, or if it’s just because that’s how Sam Levinson, as a white male, sees people.

“I felt frustrated with this season’s episode 5, when they pitted a Latina against a white girl. My fiancé, Chris, said, ‘Don’t see it as a race issue.’ But as a person of color, I find it hard not to see it like that. They made Maddie look damaged, and she was so hurt, and then Cassie gets the happy ending. Nate wasn’t willing to compromise for Maddie, but all of a sudden, he’s willing to compromise for a woman who meets all American beauty standards. Nate was able to fetishize Maddie and be abusive and toxic towards her, but he’s a good person with Cassie? Maddy is so much more — you saw her give Kat great advice a couple episodes before, and she’s always been a ride or die to Cassie. And then Cassie betrayed her.”

*****

ZIVA, 40, Brooklyn
Word she’d use to describe Euphoria: Transcendent
Character she wishes she could be: Maddy
Could she survive Eastland High? “I’m ready to go undercover now and be a student!”

“The character development is top shelf. Each character is written so well, like who Jules was and who she is now. And Rue is awful, just awful, but your heart also breaks for her and you love her. I’m like, ‘Oh my god, Rue, are you always going to be a junkie?’ You’re really rooting for her.

“My favorite character is Fez. If I could have a wallpaper of him, I would. He is so chill but strong. If I were a teenager, I’d identify with Lexi — feeling out of place, like I don’t belong, but also being quiet and laid back. But Lexi has her head on her shoulders and she knows that she isn’t where she should be, this scene isn’t for her. Lexi’s the type of person who will move away and have a career.

“The show makes you feel all the things. Even the way it’s shot, so dimly lit that it’s almost seedy, puts you in this dark mentality. And there’s the dilemma of rooting for the bad guy. You’re like, ‘This dude is so bad, why am I rooting for him in this scene?’ But there are so many layers to each character. Because in the end, the truth is, in life, everyone hopes that everyone is good. They’re not, but that’s the hope, right?

“For the finale, my fear is that Fez is going to die. And I will have to go on medical leave from work if that happens.”

*****

Shana, 45, New York City
Word she’d use to describe Euphoria: Sensationalized
Character she wishes she could be: Jules
Could she survive Eastland High? “I don’t think very well.”

“I only had to watch the first episode to be completely seduced. The art direction is just beautiful, the makeup, the attention to detail. The director pushes boundaries and takes risks. And Zendaya is extraordinary in this role. For a young actor to so physically embody an addict, it’s really amazing. Also, I love the ensemble of actors, especially the women for their chemistry and friendship. They can be horrible and cruel to each other, but also have incredibly tender moments. The relationship between Rue and Jules feels raw and beautiful. They’re like Girls, but Girls 2.0.

“The other night, my husband and I went on a date and left our kids at home with their friends. Before we left, we told them not to use the stove. But I never in a million years would have imagined that the 13-year-old girls would hole up in the bedroom and watch hours of Euphoria! I was in complete shock. At first I was anxious about all the nudity, drugs and sex, but after thinking more about it, I felt like the show does a good job of depicting the very real struggles teenagers face and the consequences of making bad choices.

“Afterward, I told my daughter, ‘Let’s watch the second season together.’ I felt like it was better to be able to talk about it, versus her watching it on her own. Now I’m actually grateful for the conversations the show has provoked.

“Despite dark subjects, Euphoria has so much beauty and love. Even though it’s totally hyper-realized, there are moments of truth. Plus, it’s so entertaining to watch.”

Have you seen Euphoria? Or is it too much for you to handle? I’d love to hear your thoughts!

P.S. The ultimate TV guide, and what TV character do you relate to?

(Photo by Eddy Chen/HBO)

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