HBOMax’s Euphoria and “Unrealistic Expectations”

Content Warning: Euphoria includes themes of drug use, sex, sexual assault, suicide, self-harm, emotional abuse and physical violence. Please see the graphic of resources for information about counseling services and Title IX at Lawrence University.

With my For You Page jam-packed with TikToks about Euphoria, I couldn’t help but start watching the hit HBOMax series. And to be honest, I was a little hesitant to watch it, as so many reviews I had seen about the show complain about how unrealistic it is. I am not really a fan of watching shows I can’t relate to, so I went in expecting not to enjoy it. But what I found was something all too relatable. 

For some context, Euphoria is narrated by Rue (Zendaya), a high-school drug addict just coming home from rehab. Rue tells the story of her high school friend group grappling with drugs, alcohol, sex and abusive relationships. Episodes include flashbacks from the characters’ childhoods, while simultaneously following their complicated lives as high school teenagers. Rue’s friend Maddy (Alexa Demie) has an on-again, off-again relationship with the star football player, Nate (Jacob Elordi). Nate, the audience comes to learn, has a long history of anger issues and physical violence. Kat (Barbie Ferreira), who deals with self-confidence and body image issues, becomes an underage cam model to make money, involving her with the porn industry. Cassie (Sydney Sweeney) suffers mental and physical abuse from boys who use her for her looks and her body, often putting down her personality. Jules (Hunter Schafer), the new girl in town, becomes best friends with Rue and has illegal, underaged sexual relationships with men on dating apps. Much of the show features hard-core high school parties, drug-deal scenes and non-censured sex scenes. This show really shows every part of the human body. Like, every part. 

The costumes, makeup and lighting, however, are what really take the spotlight of this show. Glitter, jewels, bright colors and crazy eyeliner are seen all over the female characters, each with their own intense style. The clothes the characters wear are unique, fashionable and not the typical high school look of leggings and a sweatshirt. Through not only narration, but costume and makeup, the audience of Euphoria develops a deep sense of individuality for each character. Fun, flashing lights and interesting camera angles offer a fresh perspective compared to your average high school T.V. drama. The beat-heavy soundtrack accelerates the intense emotions of the show as well. 

I will preface this portion of my review by saying I do not think Euphoria is 100 percent accurate in replicating the high school experience. I went to high school, and I definitely was not decked out in rhinestones during AP Literature. I do think, however, that Euphoria also isn’t totally wrong. Many reviews of the show blame it for being hypersexual, but I once went to public high school, and I do not think this show misses the mark about social pressure and sex. There are instances in the show of sexual assault, sexual harassment and the case of someone’s nudes leaking to the whole school that are relatable and realistic. Even if a viewer hasn’t necessarily lived the exact life of one of the characters, we know someone from high school who has. In addition, the discomfort, tension and pressure that comes along with being a high school girl is absolutely accurate in Euphoria and, unfortunately, a reality to most viewers. 

Euphoria also discusses issues of confidence, appearance and the need to be appealing to high school boys very well. I notice most characters on Euphoria questioning their worth based on their physical appearance and who finds them attractive, which is all too real (I would know). High school is a very judgmental time, when people feel the need to “fit in” or “be cool” and give in to uncomfortable situations. While every high schooler interacts with these scenarios on different levels, probably not to the severity shown on Euphoria, they are still issues teenagers confront as they move towards adulthood.  

Euphoria is not an easy T.V. show to watch. There are difficult stories of abuse, violence and harassment. While it may not look exactly like high school today, I think the emotions characters express, as well as the painful situations they live through, are unfortunately common in a teenager’s life. To me, the characters act fairly real. The conversations they have with each other aren’t totally unlike the ones I had with my friends in high school. The things I hear them say about themselves are the same thoughts that went through my mind as a high schooler, too. I find myself relating to the difficulties, obstacles and uncomfortableness of being a teenager Euphoria presents. The show is not for everyone. It is uneasy, disturbing and in-your-face. But don’t let the sparkly eyeshadow fool you. You might find yourself relating to this seemingly “unrealistic” teenage drama more than you expected.