Euphoria Certainly Won’t Cause That Upon Viewing

David B Morris
8 min readJan 10, 2022


The Ultimate Symptom of Peak TV’s Teenagers Problem

What do so many people see in her?

There are a lot of series on TV these days that I consider overrated, but there are very few that I actively dislike: The Handmaid’s Tale basically lost whatever narrative thread it had early on, and I can’t understand what people see in Ozark (that’s going to be in the Overrated Series soon, believe me) But by far, one of the my biggest dislikes is HBO’s Euphoria. I was appalled when Nicole Kidman and Reese Witherspoon of Big Little Lies were passed over for Emmy nominations for Zendaya and infuriated beyond any measure when she beat out such qualified contenders as Olivia Colman and Jodie Comer. I think the only real bad choice the HCA made when it gave out its inaugural awards was when they chose to pick Colman Domingo for Best Actor in A Limited Series or Special over among others, Chris Rock for Fargo and Hugh Grant for The Undoing.

I’ve watched only a handful of episodes (including the Season 2 premiere) but I’m truly appalled that anybody in their right mind would watch the series or be enthralled by it. Especially because it is the prime example of everything that Peak TV does wrong when it writes series about teenagers. To explain what I mean, I will imitate Zendaya and give you a brief back story.

The rise of the great teen drama doesn’t quite correlate with the Golden Age of TV but its close. Buffy The Vampire Slayer made its debut on the WB months before Oz would start the revolution proper but for all the stories we hear about creator Joss Whedon recently, it doesn’t change the fact that it was one of the greatest series of all time, certainly at least an equal to anything in the first wave of HBO’s series. What Buffy did that the Golden Age didn’t quite manage was to create a pantheon of extraordinary teenager based dramas that lasted well into the first decade of the New Millennium. The WB was first and foremost the prime source (to the point that Mad TV would do a skit calling the network show ‘Pretty White Kids With Problems’) and it did produce some masterpieces, most notably Gilmore Girls and Felicity.

Peak TV never quite produced the same level of great teen dramas that it did for adults (Friday Night Lights is a notable exception to the rule) but it did produce more than its share of brilliant teenage characters, from Jamie-Lynn Sigler and Robert Iler’s work as the Soprano children to RJ Mitre’s exceptional job as Walter White Jr. and there were countless ones in between, from any of the great teenage performances we got in The Wire’s fourth season to the incomparable Kieran Shipka’s work as Sally Draper on Mad Men. They weren’t all perfect — Kim Bauer, anyone? — but throughout the Golden Age, teen characters had nearly as good roles as adults did.

Sometime in the 2010s, the picture shifted. There were many networks that would make their entire focus being on teenage comedies and dramas and often do them brilliantly. Before MTV got out of the original series business, we got two of the greatest teenage comedies in history in Awkward. and Faking It. Freeform was — and still is — one of the great sources of material when it comes to telling stories about young adults, some of which are in the first spin-off (Good Trouble emerged from The Fosters and grown-ish, a series that was originally slated for HBO is a great series in its own right.) Generally network and basic cable have done a very good job when it comes to portrayals of teenagers. Not everyone may have loved Glee but it did set the bar pretty high for dealing with gay teenagers, a bar that series like Shameless managed to match and sometimes surpass.

Pay cable and streaming, however, have been stumbling the past decade. It’s hard to know where it started exactly — perhaps with Megan Brody and Bridget Donovan on Homeland and Ray Donovan respectively. But over the past several years seeing well developed teenage characters on networks like HBO and Showtime or streaming generally have become harder to find and when you do find them, they’re almost entirely unsympathetic or unlikable. There have been exceptions to the rule — The Americans did a good job and Julia Garner is one of the only really good things about Ozark — but far more often they’re basically used as jokes — Selina’s daughter on Veep was a literal prop for everybody else — or they get written out because the writers can’t do anything with them. (Remember Ray Donovan’s son?) A well drawn teenage character seems beyond the ken of so many showrunners these days, and certainly not a likable one.

Which brings me at last to Euphoria. Now I am willing to admit that the life of a high school student growing up in an era with the oppressiveness of school shooting drills, racial profiling and the likelihood of climate disaster when you’re in college could make one bleak and cynical about your future and make you self-destructive. But dear God, did creator Sam Levenson just take every possible negative trope about life in the new millennium and mix and match with every single person instead of giving them actual character development? People may ask about the threadbare nature of the Trauma Plot; Levenson (who writes and directs every episode) has all his characters seek out their own traumas.

In an episode I saw last night focused on Nick, who as a child found his father’s porn videos and watched them. As a result of this he became a jock, star of the football team, and currently worships a girl named Mandy — so much so that when another man has consensual sex with her, he tracks him down and beats him to a pulp. I’m told that at the end of Season 1 she finally broke with him, probably not for that reason. There was another character — a pudgy girl named Kat who found out their was a sex tape of her online and she demanded the kid who put it there take it down — until she saw all the followers she got and how much they worshipped her. So she starts ‘camming’. These are “Pretty Kids With Problems’ except they seem to search out and want these problems. What does it say about the characters on Euphoria that a drug dealer seems to be the only one with a moral compass?’ And honestly having seen the season premiere, learned Fuz’s backstory and seen him action in it, he comes across as practically the only character that seems committed to change. When he commits the episode’s most horrific action, your sympathy is with him. What does that say about the nature of the rest of the characters?

Which brings me to Zendaya. I think Zendaya is a good singer and actress. I actually liked her work in the recent Spider-Man movies. I don’t see how anybody who watches five minutes of this series and want to spend anytime walking through her character’s shoes. She starts out by getting out of rehab and saying she has no plans to stay sober. To paraphrase the late great Nancy Marchand: “Oh, poor Rue!” Do you know how lucky you are? Half the characters on The Wire would kill for a bed in rehab and the caring parent you piss on. Hell, first you bribe your NA counselor and then blackmail him for agreeing to your bribe. You scream entitled bitch! You’re the least sympathetic drug addict I’ve ever met, and I watched House for almost its whole run. And seriously, when she relapsed and is confronted with her habits, she doesn’t seem committed to change or really learning anything.

To be clear I don’t blame Zendaya or anybody in this mostly good cast for what happened. No, all of this falls on Sam Levenson who writes and directs every episode. Now I’ll admit he’s a decent director — the series is filled with truly remarkable camerawork and some truly memorable images. (I’ll get to one recurring one in particular) But there doesn’t seem to a coherent character arc, decent dialogue or realistic plot in the entire show. The kids in Rue’s high school are dealing with issues the cast of Gossip Girl would find too much.

And seriously? One of the taglines for Euphoria should be: “You give us two minutes; we’ll give you a penis.” Now graphic shots of men’s genitals are nothing new for HBO. I was a teenager when they started ‘popping up’ on Oz. But at least there was a point — prison has no privacy so everyone has to live with it. And I’ll admit there’s still some power in it in moderation. But to do it like this — particularly with teenagers — smacks far too much of kiddy porn to make me wonder why no one cries foul. Is it supposed to be a sign that nothing shocks us any more? Believe me, there are far too many other images like that in Euphoria already.

And none of this bothers me as much as the fact that Euphoria has nothing to say about anything. Its all style and pretension. It’s actually what so many critics complained True Detective for being. And honestly, I really wonder if the fans of this show don’t see the hypocrisy in this. When a white, cis, male makes broad statements about the bleakness of the universe and the idiocy of the world, its sexist drivel. When a multiracial, bi-curious teenage girl says that, she’s a font of wisdom.

I’ll admit there are at least one or two intriguing characters in the series — Fuz the drug dealer is interesting and Maude Apatow as Lexie actually seems significantly less damaged and therefore more interesting. (Like her father, Maude is a writer-director; part of me wonders if Levenson allowed to her make some edits to her dialogue which has a crispness that the rest of the characters lack.) But honestly the more you see of Euphoria the less you realize is there.

Which honestly makes me wonder: just who is the demographic for Euphoria? I can’t imagine teenagers wanting to see this series; none of them would find the characters relatable or even recognizable. Millennials would find it pretentious and Gen Z too woke. No one over thirty would understand most of the references, and no one under thirty would want to spend time with these people. The more I try to think of the ideal audience for this series, I keep going to creepy places.

I’ll close my article with a commentary that the best way to criticize a series is to make another series. In this case one already exists grown-ish. All of the characters are roughly the same age and class as the characters in Euphoria and given their racial and sexual makeup, they don’t have anywhere near the options that these characters do. Yet they generally are most optimistic, committed to each other despite their mistakes, and more fun to be around. And while Zoey Johnson is in some ways more shallow than Rue, she would no doubt — and be justified in doing so — look down on her for coming from greater privilege, frittering it away, and using the state of the world to justify it.

My score: 1.75 stars.



David B Morris

After years of laboring for love in my blog on TV, I have decided to expand my horizons by blogging about my great love to a new and hopefully wider field.