the purpose of playing, whose
end, both at the first and now, was and is, to hold as ’twere the
mirror up to nature: to show virtue her feature, scorn her own
image, and the very age and body of the time his form and
–Hamlet, William Shakespeare
It’s difficult to spend time online in 2022 without hearing at least a hint of HBO’s salacious series Euphoria. Season 2 is currently dropping week by week (like in the old days of television) with audiences gripped by scandalous episode after scandalous episode of teenage melodrama.
I finally took the plunge this week. The attraction of the show is obvious. Slick production, a cast full of eyecandy, intriguing characters and plotlines – it’s the full package of sex, drugs, and
rock n roll impossibly tasteful hip-hop.
Starting from Season 1, Episode 1, I was immediately struck by the opening monologue from an unborn Rue, played by faye du jour Zendaya.
I was once happy. Content. Sloshing around in my own private, primordial pool. Then one day, for reasons beyond my control, I was repeatedly crushed… over and over by the cruel cervix of my mother…
I was born three days after 9/11…My mother and father spent two days in the hospital, holding me under the soft glow of the television, watching those towers fall over and over again, until the feelings of grief gave way to numbness.
Thus, showrunner Sam Levinson frames the entire series with this opening thesis. After all, her name is Rue and she resents the day she was born…
The ensuing madness that is Euphoria paints a bleak and chaotic existence for today’s youth.
I’ve written at length before as to why a star such as Billie Eilish is so popular, with her penchant for dark imagery and confrontational/depressive aesthetic. The eldest members of Generation Z are already of working age, and the future they are confronted with is as bleak and chaotic as the existences portrayed in Euphoria.
What exactly does Gen Z face? An opioid and addiction culture, gender and sexuality-based bullying, impending climate doom, inheriting a broken and polarised political system, and generational gaps with their parents/elders that are less gaps than they are gaping abysses… Throw into that mess a global pandemic that forces isolation and perpetual paranoia of an unseen enemy and it’s no wonder that Gen Z faces a mental health crisis unlike any other.
A show like Euphoria, while no doubt sensationalised, offers insight into the complexities of those we may not fully understand. The very same people we at times even marginalise in society.
We can follow Rue as a victim of her own addiction, without shying away from the way she victimises others due to the consequences of her actions. We can feel our hearts break with Jules’ childhood trauma played out behind plated glass in a psychiatric unit, revealing the struggles of someone who “hates both their brain and body”. We can feel disgust at the hypocrisies and failings of older generations manifested as repressed desires and moral quandaries that seem to be carried into their children’s DNA…
As Shakespeare wrote, the purpose of acting and storytelling is to hold a mirror to reality – to reflect the highest of highs and the lowest of lows, all on full graphic display, as only an HBO series can.
For all the gratuitous drugs, sex and heightened drama of a tv serial, the themes of childhood, coming-of-age, fleeting innocence and the perpetual search for that euphoric high are universal and altogether purely human.
Therein lies the attraction of a show like Euphoria. Buried beneath the seediness, grime and generational trauma of adolescence in the 21st century, the human search for joy and intimacy endures.
Born in an era of grief and raised in a time of chaos, these crazy kids are just trying to find meaning in their lives, just the same way as Hamlet did all those centuries ago. The Danish prince had soliloquies and ghosts, Rue and company have xanax bars and trap music. Yes, their lives are framed by pain, but if they manage to have a party or two during their pursuit of happiness, then so be it.
This post was originally published as part of deadset’s weekly pop culture wisdom newsletter. Subscribe now via Substack.