When it was originally on: 2019-present
Original network: HBO
Where you can stream it now: HBO Max (Or maybe HBO Now or HBO Go or is it just Max? I don’t know what’s up over there, get it wherever fine HBO products are streamed.)
Had I seen it before: No.
What IMDb says: A look at life for a group of high school students as they grapple with issues of drugs, sex, and violence.
Why I picked it: I’ve always had a soft spot for teen soaps, and this seems to be the one of the moment. Perhaps more importantly, it’s the first example I can think of of a ~prestige outlet~ putting their spin on the teen soap. I intentionally added this one as well as a more conventional one so we could compare and contrast.
I’m also somewhat fascinated by HBO’s ability to reinvent itself for new generations, and Euphoria is the most recent example of that success. I am from what I’d call the “Game of Thrones generation” which feels miles away from both the “Euphoria generation” and the “Sopranos generation” even though there’s only 20 years difference between the Sopranos premiere and the Euphoria premiere. I’ve already reviewed the pilots for both Game of Thrones and The Sopranos and I’m curious to see what this next chapter of HBO might look like with Euphoria leading the way.
What I liked: I was pleasantly surprised by how ensemble-y this pilot is, and how well it develops the many different characters it has. Season 1 always seemed to be marketed as the Zendaya-Does-Drugs show, and while the pilot certainly leads with that, there’s still about 5 or 6 characters that felt real and are intriguing to me. I don’t know that much about McKay, Cassie, Nate, Jules, or Lexi, but I know enough to be curious about them. The pilot shows me what different conflicts they’ll continue to grapple with and how they might cause conflict for others in the ensemble. Sure, some of them feel like stock archetypes of the genre, but I sort of like that. In seems like at least some of the fun of Euphoria is going to be watching archetypes like Nate comingle with less archetypical characters like Rue and Jules.
The pilot doesn’t really give Rue that much characterization outside of her drug addiction, which could be a problem and I love that it isn’t. I think this is one of the cases where voiceover actually justifies its presence because Rue’s attitudes towards her drug addiction are the interesting part. She’s unapologetic about it. She has a “blame the system” mentality, but doesn’t necessarily strike me as a victim either, nor does she want to be seen as one. She’s just a person who doesn’t know how to feel good without drugs. The flashbacks also make me think the show will continue to explore Rue’s past and how she got here, which is an enticing prospect.
The grand reveal at the end also got me. I genuinely didn’t see it coming, even though the entire pilot was teasing that there was big drama on the way. Somehow the pilot delivered on those promises in its own right while still feeling like we’re at the tip of the iceberg. That balance is perhaps a pilot’s most important, but most difficult job, and I think Euphoria does it quite nicely.
What I didn’t like: While Rue’s voiceover isn’t inherently annoying the way so many TV pilot voiceovers are, I do hate how they use it for scenes that don’t have anything to do with Rue. Really, why is the McKay/Cassie sex scene being described to me from Rue’s perspective? I could’ve done without any voiceover, or even voiceover from the characters directly involved in these scenes. It seems like a missed opportunity to let me get inside some of these other characters’ heads, and given that the Rue voiceover is well-written and made Rue more interesting, I kind of wish others had gotten the same treatment.
I’ll also say that for as real as a lot of these characters feel, Nate’s ex and her squad still felt pretty flat. That could easily change within an episode or two, and all in all the pilot makes me feel like I’m in good hands and they likely iron that out.
Do I want to watch Ep. 2: Yes! It seems like exactly what I wanted: a fresh, gritty spin on the teen soap that blends time-tested, familiar tropes with a more modern, pulls-no-punches HBO approach.