Four reasons to watch 'Euphoria' with Zendaya

As season two of the hyperactive teenage drama starts on OSN, here’s why the show is dominating the cultural conversation

This image released by HBO shows Zendaya, right, and Hunter Schafer in a scene from "Euphoria," airing Sundays at 10 p.m. ET on HBO. (Eddy Chen/HBO via AP)
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If you’re already a fan of the stylised high-school teenage drama Euphoria, you won’t need any reason to tune into OSN to catch the highly anticipated season two, which debuted on January 9.

However, if you haven’t yet seen the show which self-confessed fan Leonardo DiCaprio calls “amazing”, you’re missing out on one of the hottest TV pop cultural moments since Gossip Girl ruffled parental feathers back in the mid-aughts.

The show features Spider-Man actress Zendaya in the role of 17-year-old high-schooler Rue Bennett, a part which earned her a place in the history books as the youngest actress to win the Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama Series Emmy at the 2020 awards. An accolade she won aged 24.

IMAGE DISTRIBUTED FOR THE TELEVISION ACADEMY - Zendaya accepts the Emmy for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama Series for "Euphoria" during the 72nd Emmy Awards telecast on Sunday, Sept. 20, 2020 at 8:00 PM EDT/5:00 PM PDT on ABC. (Invision for the Television Academy/AP)

With its 18+ audience warning, it’s no surprise the show tackles some hard-hitting subjects around relationships, race and substance abuse. Indeed it’s been dubbed “nightmare fuel” for mums and dads.

However, what gives greater pause for thought is not the show’s unflinching look at what today’s teenagers get up to, but rather at what they’re exposed to in real life and online at a young age and on a daily basis.

“My job is to tell stories,” Zendaya told Teen Vogue, “and I definitely don’t think that Euphoria is meant as a guide to tell people to follow a moral high ground of any sort, or what the right thing and the wrong thing is to do. That’s definitely not what our show is here for. It’s really just to tell stories, and hopefully somebody out there can connect to it and see themselves within it.”

Here are four reasons why you should be watching the hit show …

Zendaya's portrayal of Rue Bennett

This image released by HBO shows Zendaya in a scene from "Euphoria," airing Sundays at 10 p.m. ET on HBO. (Eddy Chen/HBO via AP)

The talented actress plays Rue, a troubled high-school girl who is directionless as she tries to navigate being a teenager. Rue is fresh out of rehab and not in the right frame of mind for sobriety in the first episode of season one, having become an addict after stealing her father’s Oxycontin as he lay dying from cancer.

Rue has taken a different path to her straight-laced childhood best friend, Lexi Howard (Maude Apatow, daughter of film director Judd Apatow), and becomes fast friends with the similarly troubled new girl at school, Jules Vaughn (Hunter Schaefer), and together the pair embark on a series of bad decisions.

“It’s painful to watch because you just want them to make the right decisions so bad, you know?” Zendaya told Business Insider. “But they're kids. And it happens that way.”

Inclusion and representation on-screen

“I think that that’s what’s good about Euphoria is it makes other people feel less alone in their experiences,” Zendaya told Deadline entertainment website. “It makes them know that they’re not the only person dealing with what they’re dealing with.”

“All we ever wanted was for people to feel seen through our work,” she told Teen Vogue.

Thanks to inclusive casting, teenagers and grown-ups alike will have no trouble seeing themselves in the show, whether that’s via skin colour, social and financial status, body shape, mistakes made, friendships formed and different paths taken.

“Oftentimes their actions make their experiences kind of messy where there’s no parents involved,” Schaeffer told The New York Times about some of the characters’ storylines. “But it’s interesting because my siblings have recently seen it, and I think they have a different experience of high school than I did. And they found it extremely true or relatable.”

Female friendships and toxic relationships

Nate (Jacob Elordi) and Maddy (Alexa Demie) look set to rekindle their toxic relationship in season two of 'Euphoria'. Photo: HBO

At its core, the show deals with real issues affecting teenagers around the world, particularly in the US.

Many storylines revolve around one or more of the group of best friends led by the “confident, combative” head cheerleader Maddy Perez (Alexa Demie). Her gang comprises siblings Cassie and Lexi (Sydney Sweeney and Apatow), Kat Hernandez (Barbie Ferreira) and BB (Sophia Rose Wilson), as well as Rue, who drifts in and out of their orbit.

Any woman with ride-or-die alliances, or who has had to navigate the unspoken vagaries and fierce loyalties and unspoken nuances of female bonds, will recognise the situations the young women find themselves in.

Maddy is in an on-off abusive relationship with star quarterback Nate Jacobs (Jacob Elordi), Lexi exists in the shadow of her beautiful sister and Kat navigates her teenage years as a plus-size woman.

No one is likeable (and that’s OK)

Likeability has, in recent years, become an interesting watchword in television and film. It used to be a widely held belief by producers that audiences would only relate to and become invested in characters that they liked. And if they weren’t likeable, then they should at least be capable of redemption.

But as with fellow HBO show Succession, in which the Roy siblings betray and backstab one another under their father’s gleeful gaze, none of the characters in Euphoria are likeable, and very few are even nice.

Rue lies to and steals from her hardworking mother; Jules alternately wants to be the centre of Rue’s world, then out of their friendship entirely; Fezco (Angus Cloud) is a moral-lite criminal; Nate’s father Cal (Eric Dane) abuses his family while presenting himself as a pillar of the community; and Nate himself is “an emotional terrorist, a narcissist, a sociopath, a freak”, according to Elordi, the Australian actor who plays him.

When it comes to the subject of likeability, and whether Elordi himself wants Nate to ultimately atone for the havoc he’s wreaked, the actor sums up the show's character ethos to Entertainment Weekly: “Whatever it is, I want him to have a life and I want it to be honest.”

Updated: January 10, 2022, 2:31 PM
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