Spoiler warning: Mentions plot of seasons one and two of Euphoria.
Since Euphoria first aired, the show saw growth while the world went into lockdown. The critically acclaimed HBO Max original series, starring Emmy-award-winning actress Zendaya, premiered to 577,000 viewers in 2019. Almost two years later in 2022, the second season premiered to 2.4 million viewers.
Several factors can explain this massive rise in viewership, including the long wait between seasons one and two—especially since the first season only has eight episodes (minus the two specials filmed during the pandemic to tide viewers over). Not only was season two a highly anticipated continuation, but it released when most of the world was in yet another quarantine.
The first set of lockdowns in 2020 served as the perfect time for many new fans to discover the show, which reflects in the doubled viewership of season two’s premiere. However, this larger audience can come to the detriment of the show as Euphoria is receiving an increasing amount of criticism for glamorizing toxic lifestyles to its young, impressionable audience—whether it is turning drug usage into a beautifully shot aesthetic montage or showing teenagers engage in unprotected sexual activity with each other and with adult characters.
Viewers have called out the rampant over-sexualization of teenage characters, mainly Cassie (Sydney Sweeney). Cassie has her fair share of nude scenes in season one, which was met by the criticisms of the exploration of an underage character becoming a cam girl. With a surge in viewers, people are bound to be more critical of all the unnecessary sex scenes and gratuitous nudity. A few concerned fans even worry if the actors are exploited despite the cast being vocal about how comfortable and safe they feel working with an intimacy coordinator on set.
Depicting sensitive topics like drug use and sexuality can be tricky, but Euphoria shows the realistic negative side effects that can occur—such as a character’s relationships suffering because of addiction and relapses. The show also explores complicated themes of internalized homophobia and abusive relationships.
While Euphoria’s first season centers around Rue (Zendaya) and how her addiction affects her family and relationship with her crush Jules (Hunter Schafer), the show’s second season has been criticized for ignoring these characters in favour of focusing on the supporting cast. Much of the discussion surrounds the secret relationship between Cassie and her best friend Maddie’s (Alexa Demie) abusive ex-boyfriend Nate (Jacob Elordi), especially the infamous bathroom scene the two characters share. There are also hints of a future romantic pairing with fan favourites Fezco (Angus Cloud) and Lexi (Maude Apatow). However, all this focus on their plots leaves little room for Rue and Jules, who the story used to revolve around. So far, it feels like the show is wasting the talents of arguably the two best actors on the show while many viewers wonder why they should root for Cassie and Nate’s miserably unhealthy relationship.
While the show has been criticized for being unrealistic, the critique falls apart because media should not have to be realistic to be enjoyed. The show is clearly intended for a mature audience capable of differentiating fiction from reality and can understand that the depicted situations are dramatized for entertainment. Euphoria has affectionately been dubbed “Degrassi for Gen Z” with both shows being highly fictionalized soapy teenage dramas at their core and understanding this is the best way to enjoy them.
With stunning visuals, a hypnotic soundtrack, and painfully messy characters, Euphoria creates a perfect world for the audience to get lost in for an hour every Sunday.