TV

"Euphoria" Offers Sex, Drugs, Queerness, and Not Much Else

What could have been "Kids" for a new generation gives in to salacious pandering.

There's nothing new about lurid portrayals of teenagers.

Consumers of western TV and cinema love to gawk at the depravity of youth as portrayed by 25-year-olds with startling facial symmetry. Networks like the CW have found success from this formula, pumping out substanceless but highly watchable shows like Riverdale, Gossip Girl, and 90210 to the delight of binge-watchers everywhere. But every now and then, perhaps once in a generation, a depiction of teens comes along in the form of a gripping, hyper-realistic, and poetic meditation on what it means to be coming-of-age in the modern world.

As The Atlantic puts it, "The 1980s had Bret Easton Ellis's Less Than Zero, a coolly disaffected portrait of life in Los Angeles that featured heroin, rape, snuff films, and a 12-year-old sex slave. The '90s had Kids, Harmony Korine's bleakly disaffected portrayal of teenage skater kids sharing drugs and HIV. The 2000s had Skins, Jamie Brittain's entertainingly disaffected British import about pill-popping, bed-hopping high schoolers." Now, Gen Zers have HBO's Euphoria—in its best moments.

Former Disney Channel mainstay Zendaya fittingly stars in the neon-lit teenage drama about high-schoolers facing a world ruled by unprecedented amounts of technology, learning disabilities, psychiatric disorders, synthetic drugs, and identity politics. For all the ways the show can be heavy-handed in dealing with these subjects, Zendaya's performance as Rue, the show's primary protagonist, is brilliant and subtle. Rue's childhood history of mental illness and learning disabilities have left her marooned in her teens without a firm sense of identity, resulting in an ongoing battle with drug addiction. She deftly switches between mania and depression, adding layers of truth to the tired trope of the moody teenager. The show excels most when it gives Rue the reigns and breaks the fourth wall, allowing viewers into Rue's often wryly funny, though chaotic, inner world. For example, we follow Rue through the portal of her mind into an old timey slideshow presentation on dick pics; later, we see her in a film noir of her own devising as she works to unpack a town mystery. Rue's plotline and the creative, stylized filming techniques capturing it could make for an excellent show by themselves. Unfortunately, these high points are often overshadowed by the chaotic melodrama of the rest of the series.

If you take Euphoria as testimony, modern teenagers live in a world so fraught with danger that parents would be wise to keep their kids locked in their bedrooms until they leave for college. In fact, many moments of the show feel lik experiments in boundary-pushing—but not in the productively unsettling or realistic way Harmony Korine portrayed adolescent life in Kids, for example. Euphoria is like the deranged offspring of The L Word, a health class video about STD's, and a '70's porno. In the first episode alone, the cast of characters deals with everything from statutory rape to violence against trans people, to addiction, to familial rifts, to revenge porn. None of it is subtle, with literal montages of penises appearing more than once in just the first few episodes, for no other reason than because, well, it's HBO and they can get away with it.

Jules (Hunter Shafer) and Cal Jacobs (Eric Dane)HBO

Essentially, much like its protagonist, Euphoria suffers from an identity crisis. It portrays a generation of young people beholden to the often cruel consequences of smartphones and social media (admittedly an accurate and jarring depiction). But at other times, it seems to utterly misunderstand the average teen's life in 2019. Euphoria paints a picture of a generation that parties hard, has constant sex, struggles with drug and alcohol abuse, and is relatively unsupervised by parents. In reality, American teenagers are actually having less sex than ever before and partying even less. Obviously, a show about teenagers sitting in their respective bedrooms scrolling through Instagram would be much less interesting than the racy affair that is Euphoria, but surely there's a way to portray the technology-induced isolation of the modern teen in a way that rings true and holds the audience's interest.

To be fair, the show does touch briefly on these truths, memorably portraying Rue watching 22 hours of reality TV on her laptop while in the midst of a depressive episode. But she also moves in and out of dimly lit parties as if they're happening on every block of her small town, and she easily accesses every drug from Fentanyl to Ketamine. Yes,today's teens do use drugs and have sex, but that's not necessarily what defines their generation. So often times the show's racier and more dramatic narratives feel purposeless in Euphoria, as if they were inserted merely for shock factor.

For example, things get even murkier when Kat—a Tumblr fanfiction writer who struggles with body image issues—starts a secret life as a cam girl, financially dominating middle-aged men over video chat. The show positions this storyline in a way that almost suggests an underage girl showing her body to strange men on the Internet is empowering. But it doesn't commit to this controversial stance, offering confused undertones reminiscent of parental PSAs ("It's 10 p.m. Do you know where your children are?" or more accurately, "It's 10 p.m. your kid is in their bedroom on the internet, do you know what they're doing?"). Eventually, Kat seems to find salvation through the tired "knight in shining armor" trope when she finds a stereotypical nice guy who "likes her for her." Because of the show's refusal to commit to a view on Kat's behavior, the storyline seems to exist merely as a gratuitously shocking statement on the danger (or possibly freedom?) the Internet offers teens.

Kat (Barbie Ferreira)

Then there's the soap opera-esque storyline of Nate and his father, a prominent businessman in the town who has a penchant for seducing young teens off gay dating apps. After discovering his secret, Nate, a seemingly sociopathic jock, tries to anonymously befriend and seduce Jules, one of his father's conquests who's a transgender woman and Rue's best friend. Soon, Jules, Nate, and his girlfriend Maddy (who he physically abuses, because, ya know, there wasn't enough drama going on already) are embroiled in a convoluted plot of blackmail, ambiguous sexuality, and mob-movie style violence.

While it's impossible to overstate the magnetic talent of Hunter Shafer (Jules), it's unfortunate that the absurd drama of Nate's storyline tends to overshadow the blossoming of Rue and Jules' relationship. The show is successful and semi-revolutionary in the way it refuses to deal in identitarian labels, allowing Rue and Jules' intimate feelings for each other to capture the viewer's attention without ever defining what exactly those feelings mean—or if they have to mean anything at all.

But still, Euphoria doesn't capture the specific pitfalls and salvations that this technological age of cynicism, sexual and gender fluidity, and psychiatric disorders poses for teens. While it's perhaps the closest thing Gen Z has to a landmark portrayal of kids raised on 9/11 footage and video games, one can't help but wish the show's creators hadn't succumbed to the temptation of dealing in quite so much excess. Storytelling takes a backseat to gratuitous nudity, sexuality, and overblown soap opera-esque storylines, creating a show that's not sure what it's trying to say, but knows it wants to be shocking. All the parts are there for Euphoria to be made into something truly revolutionary. For now, all we can do is hope Season 2 brings more story and less spectacle.
TV News

Why Chad Michael Murray Is Already Our Favorite Cult Leader

Every devoted follower of Chad Michael Murray receives a personalized Christmas card featuring the three most recent converts he's saved from Scientology.

Bustle

Chad Michael Murray (and every one of his utterly indifferent facial expressions) is finally returning to the CW.

The 37-year-old hasn't graced the network of teen dramas since starring as Lucas Scott in One Tree Hill from 2003-2012. On Friday, the CW announced he'd been cast in a recurring role on Riverdale.

Season 3 of the hit show explores the dangers of the Farm, a cult-like organization that's already ensnared Alice and Polly. Murray is set to play the mysterious cult leader, Edgar, as he makes his town debut. The CW teases: "As the enigmatic leader of the cult-like Farm, Edgar arrives in Riverdale to spread his teachings and heal the ravaged soul of this once wholesome town. Edgar is a charming, handsome guru, but is he hiding a more sinister agenda?"

Ecstatic fans on Twitter welcomed the addition...


One user posted, "Well riverdale continues to be a mess that i can't stop watching." Another commented, "Chad michael murray joining riverdale ? lmao trash joining trash." A third asked, "What?"

So it seems the news hasn't been appreciated by all. But give Chad Michael Murray a chance! We believe this busy A-list actor (2004's A Cinderella Story, 2012's To Write Love On Her Arms, numerous TV Movie darlings like Hallmark Channel's Road to Christmas) was born to play the part of a cult leader.

The proof speaks for itself:

Here he is impressing this unidentified young woman with how successful he made Hilary Duff's music career.

Here he is giving a speech at a national rally for Skinny Guys Who Wear Beanies, titled, "Aren't you tired of treating your head like a massive toe?"


This is a sample of Murray's self-help materials made available to his followers. "Sometimes you'll find love right where you left it...like me, in the bathroom mirror every morning."

Every devoted follower of Chad Michael Murray receives a personalized Christmas card featuring the three most recent converts he's saved from Scientology.


Meg Hanson is a Brooklyn-based writer, teacher and jaywalker. Find Meg at her website and on Twitter @megsoyung.


POP⚡DUST | Read More...


Finally, a “Period Blood" Emoji is Coming to Your Phone

The Persistence of Blackface Makes This Gucci Sweater Racist

Tyra Banks Channels Willy Wonka in "Modelland" Theme Park

MUSIC

REVIEW | What "Riverdale" Says About Teen Relationships

The show lets teenagers take themselves seriously, but gives their actions real consequences.

Like most teen dramas, Riverdale is an experiment in what would happen if the world really existed as a teenager views it. As with other high school murder mysteries before it, the show relies on treating teeangers' relationships and emotions seriously, more seriously than most adults do in the real world, and privileging the teenaged point of view as the one that is most often correct. But unlike similar shows, Riverdale doesn't insulate its young characters from facing real consequences for their actions, creating situations that don't often get an honest portrayal on television. While the show doesn't manage to entirely avoid teen drama tropes, it does new and better things with them.

Take, for example, Archie's relationship with high school music teacher Miss Grundy. The predatory teacher and underage student, portrayed as star-crossed lovers, are an unwelcome callback to the disturbing handling of such themes by similar shows — Pretty Little Liars comes to mind. But Riverdale does slightly better than its predecessors by allowing Archie's friends to react in a supportive and realistic way when they find out. Jughead and Betty are both horrified by the relationship, with Jughead seeing clearly how selfish Miss Grundy is being. Though scared of doing anything to hurt Archie, Betty ultimately brings the issue to the attention of other adults.

Giphy

Riverdale also shows a relatively nuanced portrait of teen conflicts with their parents. Admittedly, some of those parents are downright evil — Cheryl, Veronica, and Betty all seem to have semi-monstrous fathers. But the adults in the show are flawed in realistic ways, too. Betty's parents hide her sister's pregnancy from her and lie about her mental illness; ostensibly, this is to protect Betty, but it ends up being deeply traumatic for her and seriously damages her trust with her parents. Similarly, when Veronica realizes Hiram Lodge's crimes have ruined families other than her own, she sides against him to defend her friend Ethel. Riverdale isn't afraid to show adults making bad decisions, including bad parenting decisions, and kids pushing back against them. Home isn't a safe place for many teenagers, and these plot lines allow a broader range of possible parent-child relationships to exist onscreen.

One of Riverdale's biggest departures from its inspiration, the Archie Comics universe, is that Betty and Veronica are best friends, rather than frenemies who spend most of their time fighting over Archie. Instead of a catty, stereotypical high school mean girl, Veronica is a thoughtful person who feels terrible when she gets together with Archie, and continually checks in to make sure Betty is okay with it. Betty, rather than pining over someone who isn't interested in her, or holding a grudge against Veronica, moves on and finds her own relationship. Love triangles, or things like them, happen in real life — it's one of the reasons they're such popular fodder for drama — but allowing the conflict to resolve in a realistic way, and allowing the young women to remain friends, is an unusual move for the genre.

Giphy

The show's positive portrayal of open communication between Betty and Veronica is present throughout the show, as well. Characters keep lots of secrets from their parents, but they almost always share things with their friends (or at least, in Betty's case in season two, one friend). The few times when characters keep big secrets from one another — like when Archie and Veronica search F.P.'s trailer for evidence of Jason's murder — there is real fallout, and Jughead almost leaves town. When Archie is cagey with Valerie about his relationship with Cheryl, she ends things with him — and doesn't change her mind even after he begs her to take him back. Where other shows might allow a romantic gesture like this to work, Riverdale allows Valerie to be open and honest about her emotions, and move on when something isn't working.

In general, the show gives its teen characters' emotions more credibility than many other shows about young people, precisely because it provides real consequences for their mistakes. Often, this is just a matter of allowing a character to be upset about something for an entire episode or two, rather than having a conflict be resolved in a single conversation. When Archie doesn't reciprocate Betty's crush on him, she stops seeing him for a while to give herself time to sort out her feelings. After Betty tells Kevin's dad about his late-night hookups in the woods, it takes Kevin time to recover from this betrayal.

Giphy

It's also refreshing that Kevin's conflict with his sheriff father goes beyond the traditional teen drama coming-out narrative. Where many television portrayals of queer teens end, Riverdale begins, with Kevin, a queer character attempting to navigate conversations about safe sex with his dad, and Toni, who's both confident in her own sexuality and doesn't feel the need to define herself as only being attracted to men or women. It's a low bar to rise above, and the show could do a lot better — for example, it has so far chosen not to portray Jughead as asexual, as he is in the comics. But relative to similar shows, at least Riverdale gives its queer characters a fairer shot at being fully realized people rather than sidekicks.

The nuance in

Riverdale's relationships and emotional conflicts let the show go beyond its melodramatic premise. It's not just a campy teen murder mystery — although that on its own would already be very entertaining. It's also a compelling portrayal of the friendships and family relationships in Riverdale, which have notes of real emotional weight. The show's characters are, in their own completely unbelievable way, kind of believable as they face various moral and emotional dilemmas. Riverdale walks that line between dramatization and truth with uncommon insight, making it a truly fresh addition to the teen drama canon.
Keep Reading Show less
Top Stories

Which buzzy new TV shows will be coming back for season two?

Networks have already begun handing out renewals for the next year

Mike Coppola- Getty Images

Traditional networks and streaming services have begun renewing their biggest and most buzzed about new shows

In the coming weeks and months, TV networks will begin engaging in the yearly spring tradition of assembling their new schedules for the 2017-2018. This period marks a crucial moment for new series as they attempt to prove there's enough fan demand to return for a second season. While some of the season's biggest hits like This is Us and Atlanta already received early pick ups, networks have recently handed out a handful of renewals to some of the more buzzed about shows. For your convenience, we've decided to do a quick roundup of some big shows you can expect a second season from.

Riverdale

As strange as it is to believe, the dark, sexy adaptation of the beloved Archie comics has been a surprise critical hit for The CW. While its ratings have been solid, if unexceptional, the buzz its received from younger audiences has been enough to convince the network to give Archie and the gang a few more dark adventures. The renewal came after just 7 episodes had aired to the public.

The Good Fight

CBS has decided to similarly give a second season to its spinoff to The Good Wife, currently only available on it's new paid streaming site CBS All-Access. Despite a strong performance from a special broadcast premiere on the traditional broadcast network, CBS seems committed to keeping the buzzy show exclusively online as it looks to compete against Netflix, Amazon, and Hulu in the subscription streaming game.

Legion

The trippy FX series that has earned some of the strongest rave reviews of the season similarly earned a commitment from the network for another round of episode. Led by Noah Hawley, starring Downton Abbey's Dan Stevens and Parks and Rec's Aubrey Plaza and featuring strong ties to Marvel's X-Men universe, has managed to live up to its potential through six episodes. The show is expected to return in early 2018 after it wraps up its first season on March 29th.

Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events

Lest you think Netflix intends to spare audiences the "misery" held in the 9 books in the Snicket series waiting to be adapted, earlier this week Netflix confirmed the Neil Patrick Harris-led show would be coming back for a second season. Though no episode count was confirmed, it's not unreasonable to expect the show to adapt books 5-8 over eight episodes just as it did with season books 1-4 in season one.

Arts

Review: Archie and the Gang get gritty makeover in CW's Riverdale

Answering questions like: Did Cheryl kill her twin brother? What happened between Jughead and Archie? Why did they make Miss Grundy so hot?

Last Thursday the 26th, the new 45 minute drama Riverdale premiered on The CW, with the show having been advertised as "Twin Peaks meets Archie and Jughead," a murder mystery set in an otherwise innocent seeming town. Except that town is home to Archie and the gang. Also, they're all tweet-crazy millenials now. Also, Josie and the Pussycats are there. But I won't get ahead of myself. We here at PopDust covered Riverdale back when it was just announced, but now that the first episode has been unveiled upon us, it's time to give you our take.

The show sets us up with the mysterious death of Jason Blossom on the Fourth of July, after going out for a boat ride with his twin sister Cheryl (played by Madelaine Petsch). The "official" story, as told by sole witness Cheryl to the authorities, is that he fell into the river and drowned to death after trying to grab her glove that fell in the water. All of this told in flashback, it's now the first day of school for Riverdale High, and this year's theme is grieving for star football player Jason. Apparently, Cheryl is a lot more in the manipulative-but-popular-girl archetype than the grieving widow she lets on to be, as chatter from the other students tell us she'll probably use her brother's death to gain social standing.

[rebelmouse-proxy-image https://media.rbl.ms/image?u=%2F1e7f0f6af3db6ed3ae23e7b9fb0e530d%2Ftumblr_okk282y9JP1qjz9w2o1_250.gif&ho=http%3A%2F%2F68.media.tumblr.com&s=308&h=3ce7b3ad7c69488775ea93600d5b404fd8074c1af2b5048c21c02d0ae577cf38&size=980x&c=1043332217 image-library="0" pin_description="" photo_credit="" expand="1" caption=""]

Immediately, I don't think anyone in this town actually gives a sh*t about Jason's death, including his sister. In fact, the first reaction we see in the flashback of Jason's death at the beginning is Betty's mom straight up saying he deserved it. They give us more backstory later on, explaining that her other daughter, now in a group home, was pushed to nervous breakdown by a toxic relationship with Jason, but jeez! This lady came all the way to the river's edge, where a high schooler has died, just to look his parents in the eye and be like "LOL, got 'em!"

And those are only the people who actually believe he drowned. Apparently our man Archie (played by KJ Apa) was busy shacking up in the woods nearby with his teacher Ms. Grundy (who let's just say is cast with interesting artistic license, played by Sarah Habel), when the two heard a gunshot come from the river, right around the time Jason was supposed to have gone under.

[rebelmouse-proxy-image https://media.rbl.ms/image?u=%2Fimages%2Fc_limit%2Cq_auto%2Cw_710%2Fspmdmfyuuektrv9rxpv8%2Fmiss-grundy-from-riverdale-and-from-archie-comics-credit-alchetron-archie-comics.jpg&ho=https%3A%2F%2Fimages.moviepilot.com&s=85&h=269fff729691dee8f8e0385646937da3971c55bca6bb41a5d1b6fe8cc839e29c&size=980x&c=4249220874 image-library="0" pin_description="" photo_credit="" expand="1" caption="Whatever you say, CW!"]Whatever you say, CW!

Because of the nature of their relationship, the two are forced to keep the gunshot a secret, but boy are they ever guilty about it. Sike! They totally aren't, because Ms. Grundy doesn't care that she heard a student from her school probably get shot, she just wants to have more freaky sex with underage Archie, while Archie doesn't care that a kid he played football with was murdered, he literally just wants Ms. Grundy to teach him about music. I understand that both of them want to keep their fling under wraps, but the two almost make it look too easy at this point.

This brings me to one of my problems so far: is Archie a total f*cking idiot?

[rebelmouse-proxy-image https://media.rbl.ms/image?u=%2F08fa72b4895708c686dc3f0738b7dffa%2Ftumblr_okm0yiXvxu1rl297zo1_540.gif&ho=http%3A%2F%2F68.media.tumblr.com&s=941&h=59e1df841e0d623cded578d9e22106aa7257f9ea19bfbee40a0a7997f08a9411&size=980x&c=3980108711 image-library="0" pin_description="" photo_credit="" expand="1" caption="Not pictured: brains?"]Not pictured: brains?

In the scene where we meet the spoiled, upper class Veronica Lodge (played by Camila Mendes), she steps into Pop's Diner fresh off the plane from New York City, where her father is currently under trial for embezzling millions of dollars, or some white collar crime along those lines. Archie and Betty, meanwhile, are on a date talking all about how Archie is torn between varsity football and writing music. Amazingly, we do not get a shot of the world's tiniest violin playing for him, but we do get an awesome shot of Archie when he sees Veronica walk in.

When I say you can see the exact moment Archie stops caring about Betty, I mean this show would have to write it on a sign to be anymore blunt about it. Our man focuses instantly on the new girl in town, making no secret about it, all the while sitting across this girl who he's practically dating. The lack of subtlety is honestly hilarious.

[rebelmouse-proxy-image https://media.rbl.ms/image?u=%2F282b6fcefc88beee4d5848897fa1d57b%2Ftumblr_okk9ohXoNK1v9dyjzo4_500.gif&ho=http%3A%2F%2F68.media.tumblr.com&s=925&h=318c5f9998c61985e2aa6037903832eb180bdf9c76ce638add4752d2318e7f61&size=980x&c=2437811571 image-library="0" pin_description="" photo_credit="" expand="1" caption=""]

A refreshing part of the show is the inclusion of Kevin Keller (played by Casey Cott), the first openly gay character from the Archie comics, who serves as the sassy, witty comic relief during all of this high school brooding. Wait, sassy? Getting a little too close to Stereotypically Gay Man for my taste. What's next, is he going to be forced into being some annoying girl's best friend?

Oh. Well then.

Check out weekly reviews of Riverdale episodes here on PopDust, as they premiere on The CW!