Despite Zendaya’s attention-getting, award-winning performance, the HBO series remains so gloomy and nihilistic that it’s unduly characterized by how far series creator Sam Levinson will push nudity, sex, and drug usage norms. (Answer: Quite a distance.)
“Euphoria” goes to great lengths to set itself apart from the airbrushed soapiness of “Gossip Girl” and other TV contributions to the genre, attempting to compete with the rawest films that have explored these themes, as well as premium series like “Generation” and “13 Reasons Why,” both of which have sparked controversy.
Even with the flights of fancy — giving certain episodes an almost surreal feel — and heavy-handed narration offered by Zendaya’s Rue, whose troubles with addiction remain, any television show eventually comes down to the individuals, and this is where the series falls short.
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Levinson has constructed the season as a series of tales based on certain characters, gradually connecting those threads together over the course of the seven episodes. The problems at work, on the other hand, keep recurring, particularly Rue’s connection with Jules (Hunter Schafer) and the triangle including Cassie (Sydney Sweeney), Maddy (Alexa Demie), and Nate (Jacob Elordi), all of whom are wounded and broken in their own ways.
Despite making effort to flesh out some of their experiences, the new season does not completely escape the earlier tendency to turn the parents into monsters or useless nags, akin to the invisible voices from the old Charlie Brown cartoons.
Criticizing “Euphoria” as being deterred from previous generation teenager dramas risks certain “You kids get out of my yard!” quality, and the show has critics and admirers, with Zendaya winning an Emmy for the show’s first season.
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That said, the characters mostly dare to care too much about the viewer, and the show’s edgy attempts sometimes bring a sense of gooey, including encounters after the gun was swung around as a kind of foreplay.
Granted, a series like this isn’t meant to be everyone’s cup of tea, and it doesn’t have to be, but it does have the benefit of appealing to an audience that might not watch much else on HBO or HBO Max. (It returns with “The Righteous Gemstones,” another series that takes a different approach to broken families, which isn’t a very compatible combination.) The adolescent characters in “Euphoria” (performed by twentysomethings, as is customary) don’t have a monopoly on self-absorption, and they certainly didn’t originate it.
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The minors in “Euphoria” (played by twentysomethings, as is conventional) haven’t controlled self-absorption and clearly didn’t develop it. Ultimately, however, this latest series of episodes unfold with such dark, nasty efficiency that it can make you feel every bit as numb as Ryu sounds.
Season two of “Euphoria” premieres on HBO on January 9 at 9 p.m. ET. HBO. Like CNN, is a WarnerMedia subsidiary.
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