The Daily Stream: Euphoria Was Never Meant To Be Relatable, And Season 2 Proves It

(Welcome to The Daily Stream, an ongoing series in which the /Film team shares what they've been watching, why it's worth checking out, and where you can stream it.)

The Series: "Euphoria"

Where You Can Stream It: HBO Max

The Pitch: "Euphoria" follows a group of teens getting high (and experiencing adolescent lows) at East Highland High, and it is absolutely as ridiculous and outlandish as you've probably heard. These highs aren't always necessarily drug related, though that is the principal interest of Rue (Zendaya), who has experienced multiple treatments and relapses since her father's death from cancer.

Though this plot line serves as the narrative backbone for "Euphoria's" first season (and certainly provides ample nail-biting fodder for season 2), it's clear that creator Sam Levinson and company needed to turn things up a notch in order to evade surface-level critiques of how "Euphoria" sensationalizes drug use and exploits its teen protagonists (while the actors who play them are solidly in their 20s and 30s). As such, season 2 is rife with theatricality that often feels better suited for a melodrama than a slice-of-life examination of the hardcore proclivities of teens. The sophomore season of "Euphoria" obliterates the tired argument that the series exists to glorify narcotics and underaged sex by way of making each episode as surreal and preposterous as possible — brain disorders, shootouts, and school plays adding elements of eccentric intrigue that season 1 simply didn't offer.

Why It's essential viewing

Honestly, I would even argue that season 1 of "Euphoria" isn't even required precursory viewing for season 2. The sheer number of friends, family members, and acquaintances in this writer's own social circle who simply watched a single episode from season 2 while it aired and ended up being immediately won over is a larger figure than one might imagine. I firmly believe that season 2 is able to suck people in so effectively because as opposed to following character arcs (much of season 1 and even the front end of season 2 features cold opens that explore intimate background information on individual characters), the viewer is singularly tasked with following the drama. Dynamics are easy enough to explain in simple phrases: "She slept with her best friend's ex," "She put on a school play that basically aired out everyone's dirty laundry." The complexities and subtleties of these dynamics are effectively and exhaustively communicated by the actors, and none of these relationships are muddled despite certain fringe characters like Cal (Eric Dane) and Suze (Alanna Ubach) being granted more screen time and character exposition.

Another reason why season 2 stands solidly on its own is that at the beginning of both seasons, we're put in a nearly identical situation with Rue. The first episode of season 1 has her immediately buying drugs after successfully completing rehab, while the first episode of season 2 similarly follows Rue in the midst of a relapse. Sure, season 1 has its moments of pearl-clutching appeal — Maddy's (Alexa Demie) public revenge sex during the series' pilot, Jules' (Hunter Schaffer) sexual appetite for older men, Kat's (Barbie Ferreira) profitable cam girl hustle — but its quasi-realistic tone provoked ridicule and distasteful diatribes. Critics argued that surely this isn't what teenagers actually act like, nor is it something that oh-so-impressionable teens should be consuming. This is the paradox that plagued the show's first season: it is both totally unrealistic in its execution, yet potentially damaging for real-life teens who might consume it, meaning that whatever subject it addressed would be both asinine and irresponsible in the eyes of the broader public.

High art meets low art in season 2

As such, getting more niche and more abstract for season 2 was the smartest move the "Euphoria" team could have made. While much of the plot stays almost exactly the same (Rue struggles with addiction, her relationship with Jules, friends, and family are strained), the creative aspects of the show feel more removed from wider pop culture than in the previous season. During season 1, each episode is named after an iconic rap song, further perpetuating the relationship between sex, drugs, and popular music. Season 2, however, takes episode title inspiration from roots that are far more literary — a line from a Francisco Garcia Lorca poem, a phrase popularized by French surrealists — an act that goads the audience into approaching the show with a deeper theoretical approach than most afforded of the first season. This isn't to say that rap music lyrics aren't as worthy of intellectual exercise, rather that would-be audiences project stereotypes often associated with popular culture (whether it be hip-hop or rock 'n' roll) much more readily than they might with European auteurs. There's certainly a lengthy commentary and dialogue to be had in this realm, but we're merely working with overnight reactions at this time.

Also, allow me to take this moment to praise the "Cannibal Holocaust" main theme music by Riz Ortolani closing out the penultimate episode of the season, "The Theater and Its Double," an amazing episode that takes its title from a book by French playwright Antonin Artaud. Tell me there isn't something so delectably juicy, interesting, and down-right entertaining about that heady combination of Italian pseudo-snuff cinema, 20th-century avant-garde, and high school homoeroticism coming together so seamlessly. Before this moment, I was still riding on the high of the Laura Les' song "Haunted" having a needle drop — but "Euphoria" clearly continues to out-do itself — let's just hope this momentum takes the show into an absolutely bonkers third season.