Is ‘Euphoria’ Worth Watching? (Pilot Review)

Last night (June 16) saw the premiere of HBO’s latest new series, Euphoria. Euphoria features a lead performance from Zendaya and is produced by A24 and Drake. From the very opening scene, Euphoria delivers gut-punching visuals. To open the show, Rue (Zendaya) narrates her birth while a camera follows her journey out of her mother’s “cruel cervix.”

Euphoria follows Rue, a 17-year-old in a upper-middle class neighborhood, as she returns from her stint at a rehab facility. Rue’s story eventually intersects with the other students’ from her school for a story that is poised to be giant labyrinth of drugs, sex, mental health, trauma, and love. In other words, Euphoria is about American high school.

Zendaya and Hunter Schafer in Euphoria via HBO.

Zendaya gives the single best performance of her career as Rue. She perfectly captures the allure of getting high as an escape from the aching confusion of adolescence and Rue’s clinical anxiety. This is Zendaya unlike we have ever seen her; she gives a performance that is raw and heartbreaking but simultaneously tender and fragile. If there was ever a question as to the strength of Zendaya’s acting ability, Euphoria answers loud and clear: Zendaya is a great actor. Algee Smith (Chris McKay) and Angus Cloud (Fezco) also deliver notable performances. Aside from Zendaya, the three most moving performances came courtesy of Storm Reid, Hunter Schafer, and Jacob Eldori. She is most widely known for work in A Wrinkle in Time, but Reid gives a heart-wrenching performance as Rue’s little sister. She handles the most traumatic and mature of scenes with stunning grace. Jacob Eldori shines as Nate Jacobs, he plays the womanizing douchebag role so well that any time he is on screen, he either evokes pure fear or hated or both. Finally, Hunter Schafer gives an expert performance that achieves the delicate balance of innocence and bizarre fearlessness. The best part of Schafer’s performance as Jules is that her transness is not used as a political statement, but rather just an element of her existence.

I highlight the strong performances, because the writing of Euphoria‘s pilot was not impressive at all. There were some outstanding scenes (I’ll refrain from spoiling too much), but as a whole, after an hour-long pilot, the plot is still largely unclear.

HBO is clearly gunning for Netflix’s teen demographic with Euphoria and they just might steal it. Euphoria is a grimy, graphic, and unabashed portrayal of the most destructive parts of American adolescence. The show doesn’t shy away from sex, sexuality, nudity, language, or themes like rape or drug abuse. But, this is what being an American teenager in predominately middle-upper class schools is like.

As it stands, I will definitely be tuning in next week for Euphoria‘s second episode. The characters are compelling, the cinematography is outstanding, and Zendaya has blossomed into a fully-formed and fully-capable actor.

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