Is the popular HBO series ‘Euphoria’ causing dysphoria among viewers?

By Karisma Boyd

OVER the past two years, viewers across the country have been tuning in every Sunday night on HBO Max to get another fix of the purple ambient lights and glitter plastered across their chosen device. After a short scene introducing the episode, the word “Euphoria” flashes and as a viewer you are now stuck to your screen, fixated on what chaotic plots lie ahead.

The HBO series “Euphoria,” an adaptation from an older Israeli series, first dropped on the streaming service in June 2019. The series since then was renewed for a second season, preceded by two one-hour specials broadcast in December 2020 and January 2021. The second season premiered this past January, and this month was renewed for a third season.

“Euphoria” is based around a group of teenage frenemies who at one point go to the same high school.

The main protagonist is clear as the first episode of the first season introduces 17-year-old Rue, a drug addict in the midst of one of her many attempts at drug rehabilitation. As Rue leaves, she encounters another character, introducing the following sub-characters of the series.

This unfolds multiple story lines as teenagers encounter various intense situations. Along with multiple instances of drug abuse, viewers also see domestic abuse, alcoholism, excessive nudity, pedophilia, sodomization/ rape in the form of hazing, and more.

This series isn’t your average “Saved by the Bell” where the worst that could happen is Jessie Spano discovering caffeine addiction for the first time. If Rue didn’t get a fix, willingly, that would be the abnormal.

For each season, HBO releases one episode each Sunday. From a marketing standpoint, the shock value of each episode alone keeps viewers on their toes in anticipation of the next release. And the uncanny social media buzz from this current season did not go unnoticed within the industry.

According to a article assessing “Euphoria’s” viewership, the Season 2 premiere was watched by 13.1 million viewers across HBO and HBO Max since airing on Jan. 9, and episodes 2 and 3 saw a similar jump. The average audience for Season 1 in 2019 was 6.6 million viewers on HBO (Max hadn’t launched yet).

From left: Alexa Demie, Maude Apatow, Barbie Ferreira, Zendaya and Sydney Sweeney at the 2019 premiere of “Euphoria” in Los Angeles. (Chris Delmas, AFP)

In turn, the sudden spike in viewership into the second season of “Euphoria” has sparked controversy over the plots covering mature subjects placed in the setting of teenage life ranging from 15 to 18 years old and drawing at least part of its audience from the same age group.

Not only that, how these teenagers lives their lives is unrealistic, at least in the world that I am familiar with. The skimpy outfits worn to school, constant partying, luxury houses, and the excessive drug abuse among almost all the characters who are cast as teens only added fuel to the observations of many critics as the new season was approaching.

The show’s backlash has gone so far as to direct grievances toward the actors.

Actress Zendaya Coleman, who plays Rue in the series, was recently addressed by the organization of Drug Abuse Resistance Education (D.A.R.E) for the show glorifying teen drug abuse and addiction. Sydney Sweeney, who plays Cassie, also is constantly being interviewed about her character’s excessive nudity throughout the show.

When Coleman commented on the drug resistance organization’s claim of glorification, the 25-year-old actress pretty much said what all mature viewers were thinking. In an “Entertainment Weekly” interview, she sat down with the outlet to talk about her journey through the development of her character, Rue, as she continues to struggle with drug addiction and substance abuse:

“Our show is in no way a moral tale to teach people how to live their life or what they should be doing. If anything, the feeling behind ‘Euphoria,’ or whatever we have always been trying to do with it, is to hopefully help people feel a little bit less alone in their experience and their pain,” the “Spider-Man: No Way Home” actress told the outlet.

Barbie Ferreira and Alexa Demie in the first season of ‘Euphoria.’ (HBO photo)

“And maybe feel like they’re not the only one going through or dealing with what they’re dealing with.”

But, in hindsight, the negative reviews about Euphoria have seemed to only attract more people, accounting for the large increase in viewership over the past two years.

Despite this HBO series being rated MA for mature audiences, teens are finding ways to watch “Euphoria” without getting caught. That mirrors the story lines of the show, where pubescent teens do things secretly that they aren’t supposed to.

It is apparent that the plot design and aesthetics of the series can be overzealous sometimes, but these intense situations are not uncommon to teenagers. And just like any other parent, kids don’t unveil their whole life for adults to see.

They fear judgement, shame, or punishment. Does this mean that all teens are doing hardcore drugs? No. But if they have ever considered Zendaya’s case, her character is an unpleasant reflection and hardcore consequence of what an addict goes through.

This can also be applied to the other characters. They may dress up, party and imbibe alcohol from time to time. But when it’s all said and done, they have to come face-to-face with their reality. It isn’t always a pretty sight.

To tune in to “Euphoria” every Sunday at 9 p.m. Eastern, visit or search for partnering streaming services for more information.

Karisma Boyd is a sophomore majoring in Mass Communications and a co-editor for The Spartan Features section.


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