It’s hard to create something completely fresh and new in television, especially within the oversaturated teen drama genre. Whether it’s your classic 90s teen obsessions such as Dawson’s Creek, Party of Five or Freaks and Geeks. Musical extravaganzas like Glee and High School Musical. Recent streaming hits like the loveable dramedy Sex Education to grittier entries like Riverdale and 13 Reasons Why. It may seem as though you can’t make a show that hits all the usual checkboxes of teen dramas while offering something new to the table. That is until the show Euphoria took the world by storm in 2019.
NOTE: The following article contains spoilers for both Euphoria specials.
Sam Levinson inspiration
Born from the mind of showrunner and creator Sam Levinson, Euphoria follows a group of high school students navigating the modern world through drugs, sex and social media. On paper, this does not seem like the most original concept within the teen genre. Shows such as Skins and Skam tackle many of the same themes, with its gritty and nihilistic portrait of abrasive teen behaviour. What sets Euphoria’s first season apart however is Levinson bringing his personal demons to the authentic writing and its career-best performance by Zendays.
Euphoria was based on an Israeli drama of the same name, created by Ron Leshem, who also serves as a writer and EP for the American remake. The show effectively makes its own identity with Levinson, whose own personal experience with drug addiction serving as the crutch for the show’s themes and authenticity. The show’s standout performance is Zendaya as Rue, an addict trying to stay sober in a nihilistic setting, but the show’s other characters stand on their own two feet with Rue. Notably, model Hunter Schafer plays Jules, a trans girl who develops a thrilling but complicated romantic connection with Rue. Jacob Elordi as the brooding, sinister Nate, Alexa Demie as Maddie, Maude Apatow as Lexi and Barbie Ferreira as the confident Kat, just to name a few.
The show was able to delve into the backstories and personal struggles of each character, with the added touches of Levinson’s bold visual style. Its notoriety was achieved through a sequence featuring 30 penises rapidly flashing on-screen and an animated One Direction fan fiction smut.
Audiences and critics alike couldn’t get enough of what Euphoria was offering. The season became certified fresh on Rotten Tomatoes. It won three Emmy awards, which were Zendaya for Best Actress, Best Contemporary Non-Prosthetic Makeup and Outstanding Music and Lyrics. Its neon-drenched colour palette was a popular aesthetic for Instagram edits of the show. The 60s and 70s glam punk rock makeup created red carpet trends. Its costumes as well are styled to perfection, fully embodying the character’s personalities and looks that have fans wanting to wear themselves.
Special Part 1
Euphoria’s second season was set to be filmed in 2020 after the series was renewed back in summer 2019. Unfortunately, the show’s production became delayed due to the Coronavirus pandemic. Levinson thus switched gears by teasing two bridge episodes that were going to serve as special character-centred episodes in between Euphoria’s first and second season. The first special episode was going to be focused on Rue, with its title being Trouble Don’t Always Last. Streamed on HBO Max on December 4th, 2020, the episode follows Rue celebrating Christmas after her relapse at the end of season one. The special is set entirely in one location at a local diner where we see Rue eating with her sponsor, Ali (Coleman Domingo). Apart from the first scene which shows a fantasy of Rue’s life with Jules, this episode strips back everything that made Euphoria so audacious in its first season, for a much more intimate tone. At first glance, the special might seem like a complete 180 from what we’ve come to love about the show. It features none of its dizzying camera angles, disorienting teenage angst and recklessness or the neon-drenched aesthetic that made the show notorious and popular in the first place. Akin to more dialogue-heavy movies like My Dinner With Andre or The Before Trilogy, the episode risked having to rely heavily on the performances of Coleman Domingo and Zendaya. Fortunately, the two powerhouse actors were more than up for the challenge and the episode is quite possibly the best so far in the whole series. For an entire hour, Rue and Ali discuss everything out on the table from what it truly means to be sober, how everyone deals with their own demons separately, to even the Black Lives Matter Movement. No conversation is left out as Ali pushes Rue to really dive into her thoughts and feelings. The script is incredibly powerful with Levinson pouring out his entire heart and soul into just how far drug addiction can stay with you. We’ve all had moments in our lives when we spent an intimate evening with someone, talking and discussing, that dramatically transforms your entire outlook on life. It’s an episode that you need to soak late at night, to get in the same mood and rhythm of these characters. The camera lingers on these two’s conversations as if we the audience are the eavesdroppers on a real-life conversation. The special expertly weaves these difficult topics together that are both cohesive and emotionally affecting.
Special Part 2
Two months after the release of Trouble Don’t Always Last, Levinson came out with part two of the bridge specials with F*ck Anyone Who’s Not a Sea Blob. This time completely focusing on Jules’ perspectives on things, this episode somewhat goes back to the visual flair that Euphoria was famous for. The story does spend a lot of time with two characters conversing. This time it’s revealed that Jules has been seeing a therapist recently, Dr. Marcy Nichols played by a solid Lauren Weedman. Whereas the first special was more a bonus story developing its characters, this second special deepens the story to see things from Jules’ perspective. One of the main surprises and difficult topics that Jules discusses with her therapist is her considering de-transitioning. She believes her whole life she was trying to attain this femininity, but more so for her to appeal to the male gaze rather than doing it for herself. We also learn so much about what Jules was going through in her personal life while she was together with Rue. We learn that Rue wasn’t the first addict that Jules needed to look after and that her mom was dealing with similar things. One of the most toxic things about Jules’ relationship with Rue is their extreme codependency with each other. Looking into Jules’ personal life and what she had to go through with her mom, it all makes sense. A few of Euphoria’s visual styles come back in this special. There are dizzying camera angles and long takes, notably of Jules imagining her and another man making love. The first sequence is an extreme closeup of Jules’ eye as Lorde’s song Liability needle drops as images of Rue and Jules are flashing by. Surreal images and abrasive editing is classic Euphoria on full display.
Production of specials
Production of both specials was during 2020 with a different process than before. The episodes were filmed under strict COVID-19 protocols. This meant frequent testing by the cast and crew, mask-wearing and having a stripped-back story only allowing room for a few necessary actors. The creation of these two specials was described as being bridge episodes that the creators can do in a safer, more limited environment. Sam Levinson and the team wanted to give fans of the show a little treat by expanding what’s possible for the show. It also gave the actors to really stretch their creative muscles. Zendaya and Coleman Domingo are never better in the first special. Hunter Schafer not only gets the spotlight she deserves for her acting chops, but also co-wrote the screenplay with Levinson.
What’s most exciting in the world of Euphoria is that these specials show so much potential and possibilities for its second season. These specials prove that the show can be both electrifying with its over-the-top visual flair and be quietly intimate. There’s no official report of when the second season is going to premiere, hopes are for 2022, but it remains uncertain. For now, let’s enjoy what these specials had to offer and anticipate the second season even more than we already did.
Watch Euphoria now on Crave TV with the HBO+Movies add-on.