Euphoria- When Zendaya Acts, We Should All Stop and Watch

I haven’t been to high school in eight years. I absolutely hated going to school, I found it time-consuming in a bad way, I found my peers to be insufferable and I found the teachers to be uncaring. That was my experience of high school. Of course, there were good times; pep rally’s, dances, parties, and friends I would have done anything for. There were also drugs, and alcohol; weed specifically because when I was a junior/senior in high school Marijuana became legal in my home state. I was high a lot in school would always make sure I was good and high in homeroom, my friends were too. And we always got a kick out of the adults who turned up their noses at us because they were apparently better as teenagers than we were. Which is why it’s been extremely interesting to see a few people around me clutch their invisible pearls at the things that were shown in the first episode of Euphoria. Because while it may not have been as intense, I definitely remember high school being a lot like the way it’s depicted in HBO’s and Zendaya’s new show.

Rue Bennett is about to start her junior year of high school. Fresh out of rehab, she doesn’t really want to change but the sad smiles from her mother and sister are enough for her to pretend she does. Life is hard, but being a teenager in 2019 is harder. And when you’re mentally ill it’s almost like the whole world is in on the joke except you. When Rue was eleven, she had a panic attack. There wasn’t really a reason for it, she was safe in her parents’ bed; literally laying between them when all of a sudden she lost all the air in her lungs. Her parents rushed her to the hospital only to find out that she wasn’t dying, her brain just had some chemical imbalances. Simple enough. Except, adults can barely handle being mentally ill, so the fact that Rue got her diagnosis at 11 means she’s been dealing with something the average adult struggles to get control over. It’s not really a surprise she took the downward spiral she did.

However, that was then and this is now. Rue is back home and the first day of school is around the corner. First, though, Rue makes a trip to see her drug dealers Fezco and his little brother (I assume) Ashtray. While Fez is truly concerned for Rue, the only thing she cares about is getting high. So even though she’s only been out of rehab five days the need to find that certain calm only drugs can provide is greater than the need to stay sober.

After collecting her drugs, Rue crosses paths with Nathan and McKay. Nathan, mostly known as Nate, is your typical asshole football playing white boy. He’s tall and handsome and honestly looks like he shoulda graduated high school two years ago. Meanwhile, McKay, with his braids and soft-spoken voice, looks out of place in Nate’s massive truck. The two are friends though, if men even really have such a thing as friends, and they’re planning the most epic end of the summer party. McKay’s nervous about it, his mom will kill him if anything in her house gets broken. But Nate is more concerned with the fact he and his girlfriend Maddie have broken up yet again. The party is just a distraction from that.

The two boys soon spot a new girl riding her bike. Nate being the jerk that he is, pulls alongside her and begins to catcall her. Making her lose balance and crash on the grass. The girl is Jules, a new girl in town who moved there with her father after he got full custody in the divorce. After falling from her bike Jules heads home and decides she’s going to meet up with an older man she’s met online. Meaning she’s going to skip McKay and Nate’s party. Probably an unwise decision but hey, they’re teenagers.

On the other side, we’ve got Kat, Maddy, and BB. Three friends who are getting ready for McKay’s party in Maddy’s room. While she discusses the assumed weirdness of her nipples, Kat encourages her to get over Nate by having sex with someone else. Even though Kat is a virgin herself. Which is easily fixable if she would just, according to Maddy, catch a dick for once. Perhaps she’ll finally have her chance at McKay’s party since everyone is going to be.

Including Rue, who has come home to intense interrogations from her Mother who has zero trust in her. They argue and Rue slams the door in her face, an action I’m really surprised didn’t get her snatched up, prompting her mother to declare she can’t leave the house until she takes a drug test. Rue, who is already some kind of high, sneaks out of her bedroom window and runs to her friend Lexie’s house. To ask her for some of her pee. Disappointed but still Rue’s friend, Lexie goes upstairs to the bathroom. However, her mother and sister Cassie are in the dining room and Rue must endure an awkward and intrusive conversation with the sisters’ drunk mother while she waits for her fake pee.

Upon returning home, Rue and her mother share an emotional moment in the bathroom while she pees into a cup. Though it’s hard to tell if the emotions from Rue are real, seeing as how she snorted a line of coke seconds before telling her mom she was ready to take the drug test. She passes it though; how could she not? And her mothers’ faith is temporarily restored, enough at least to agree to let Rue spend the night at Lexie’s house. Completely unaware that her daughter has no intention of going to her friends’ house.

As the teenagers all make their way to McKay’s party, by one way or another, Euphoria sets its tone and stands proudly in it. Even when the tone is so uncomfortable the audience has to look away.

I enjoyed Euphoria, I knew I would from the trailers alone. I expected the heaviness of the show and whether or not I was excited about it, they did not disappoint. I’m not a teenager anymore but I am close to the teenagers in my family. I’m not in high school either but I definitely remember going to parties that seemed like they would last forever. I remember thinking that high school was a specific experience no one older or younger than me would relate to. I remember how certain I was that at the littlest inconvenience, the world would end. Much like the teens of today, they just go about the way they handle it differently.

While the show is good and pretty realistic, it is also extremely triggering. Rape, sexual assault, harassment, body shaming, lots of sex, self-harm and hardcore drugs all make an appearance in this first episode and promise to make many more as the season goes on. Everyone has been joking in the months leading up to the premiere that the show can’t be that intense, but it turns out it most certainly can. I thought I was prepared, I mentally told myself that I would be seeing these things but still found myself having to look away at some of the scenes. Especially one of Jules, where she is taken advantage of by a much older man. It’s a common thing but as a rape survivor myself, I don’t think I’ll ever be able to sit through those kinds of scenes without squirming. No matter how tastefully (if you even can do tasteful rape) or quick they are. This isn’t a knock at Euphoria, just an acknowledgment that they warned us and many of us didn’t take them seriously.

I think Euphoria will work for many teenagers of today for a reason explained within the first five minutes. These are the post 9/11 babies of America. They were brought up radically different. 9/11 installed a fear in many Americans that affected the way they raised their children, the way they treated them. Take Rue for instance. She was born only three days after the towers fell, her time in the hospital with her mother was spent feeling her mothers grief as her parents paid more attention to the news and the tv than they did her. You can’t really blame them, but Rue can. From the start her outlook on life has been bleak, she even describes her birth as being crushed over and over. I’ve never heard of it described that way before and now it’s given me a new perspective to consider. This generation of kids is different than ours, just like we were different than our parents. But perhaps the audience Euphoria is aiming at is drastically different than we were because of the circumstances that surround them. It’s this perspective that will probably draw me to the show most after all my younger cousin who is currently in 10th grade agreed that things do get that intense sometimes. Giving me an even more in-depth view.

The best part of Euphoria is Zendaya, without a doubt. After seeing in her only family and kid-friendly things, it’s nice to watch her stretch out her talent and do something completely different. Per one of my tweets last night during the premiere, in Euphoria Zendaya is ACTING and proving that she does indeed have the range. Every scene she’s in, she steals it. Even though this is clearly her show. When she isn’t on screen, you miss her. As she narrates the story, I found myself hanging on her every word. I wanted to experience the high she was feeling, the high she’s chasing; because she makes it sound like heaven. Like the Euphoria it can be. I want Zendaya in all the things, taking all the risks she can because even after just one episode it’s clear that she’s here to put in the work needed to become an acting icon.

I look forward to watching Euphoria every Sunday this summer.

-Danyi

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