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Wednesday, May 29, 2024
The Observer

‘Euphoria’ season 2: ‘Trashy’ in the most beautiful way

Makayla Hernandez I The Observer
Image sources: HBO Max

Now that the smoke from its season finale has finally cleared, it is time to search the rubble for why “Euphoria” has turned so suddenly into its original season’s antithesis. Once a serious look at youth and love to an absolute joke, the show doesn’t seem to realize that its second season has audiences laughing at its characters, not loving them.

Writer-director (and everything else in the credits) Sam Levinson stood at the helm of this anarchic follow-up of the hot HBO teen drama, which originally advertised itself as a ‘realistic’ portrayal of modern high schoolers and their anxieties.

Previous jokes from fans about the absurd costuming and lack of studying are nothing compared to the melodramatic adrenaline drowning this new season. Conflicts spiral from pills to heroin, and from football quarterbacks to loaded guns in the blink of an eye. Even if these sensationalized escalations might be considered understandable due to the massive popularity this show gained between seasons, what’s truly baffling is Levinson’s relationship with the cast.

Barbie Ferreira, who plays Kat, walked off set several times after creative disagreements. Her camgirl/body image arc is nowhere to be seen in recent episodes. Instead, Kat has taken to gaslighting her boyfriend just because he’s boring. In the wake of this forgettable dating drama, the character's unique journey of self-discovery in an online world becomes background noise. Why Ferreira chose to cut her scenes has yet to go public, but I suspect Levinson’s desire to sexualize every female character could be the reason.

Another high schooler, Cassie (Sydney Sweeney), is the pinnacle of high school sexualization. Half of her scenes in the first two episodes have her both topless and hopelessly addicted to the love Nate (Jacob Elordi), her best friend's ex-boyfriend, throws at her.

Multiple articles interviewing the actresses claim they had to talk Levinson out of doing nudity in several scenes, which makes the scenes that survive the cut all the more uncomfortable. Sweeney bears the brunt of this demand for nudity above else, Levinson having reduced her character to a sobbing mess rather than someone worth rooting for. Fortunately, Sweeney’s performance is the highlight of every scene; no matter how much I hate the character, she and Zendaya are the powerhouses of recent television.

Because of its weekly release schedule, I almost gave up on the show after every episode. Only episodes 4 and 5 really hooked me, and that was because that’s when everyone hits rock bottom.

Every plot eventually twists into the others, destroying each other in their wake. Cal’s meltdown, for instance, leads to Nate’s hopeless self-discovery. Rue’s addiction destroys not only her future, but also her sister’s and friends’ — all in just one night. When the show focuses on individual mistakes wrecking entire families, either through addiction or crime, reality shines through the sex-drama facade.

The two souls of “Euphoria” clash scene after scene, with only one of them worth watching and the other taking all the screen time. In rare moments, Zendaya’s performance earns her another chance for an Emmy, but outside of her singular episode, the other side of the show is in charge. Sex sells, and talking about addiction is a hard watch, so doubling down on the high school drama is the economic choice.

Even with gorgeous cinematography and unlimited talent in front of the camera, “trashy” is the only word I can use to describe this series. The show's conflicts are cartoonishly flat, and its gratuitous visuals feel empty. This cartoonishness, though, feels intentional. There is a market for “trashy” entertainment, and this show’s popularity proves it has struck gold.

I only liked two episodes this season, yet I know I will tune in for season 3. The “Euphoria” viewing experience may come with a weird feeling of weekly dread and with the sensation of watching a car crash, but the payoff is the next day when everyone I know talks about it.

Ultimately, “Euphoria” is a must-watch, if only because it seems like the most talked about show in the country right now. Trashing Cassie or sharing memes of Maddy is America’s new favorite pastime. Even so, I am not a fan of this show. I hate most of the subplots and Levinson’s craft, but the community from the fans trashing it is way too fun to move on.

Title: “Euphoria”

Starring: Zendaya, Sydney Sweeney, Jacob Elordi

Director(s): Sam Levinson

If you like: “Riverdale,” “13 Reasons Why”

Shamrocks: 1.5 out of 5