This pilot episode is a bit too erratic and provocative to be likable, but it’s easy to see there’s going to be more to the series than pure shock value.
This Euphoria Episode 1 recap contains spoilers.
Combining the drug-addled partygoing extravagance of traditional teen dramas with the prestige gloss and harrowingly up-front depictions of overdosing, sexual assault and self-harm afforded by HBO, Euphoria is… quite something, let’s be honest. Created by Sam Levinson and starring a perfectly-cast Zendaya as Rue, a teenager chasing oblivion down bottles and along lines of whatever substance she can get her hands on, this is an unflinchingly bleak portrait of America’s youth.
The question after Euphoria episode 1 is whether or not the show will be able to get out of its own way. This first episode is, fittingly, too erratic, and its willingness to frankly present the darker side of growing up and acting out feels like slightly misplaced eagerness. Some scenes are genuinely shocking and others seem like deliberate attempts to outdo those which came before; it’s a spiral of despair that seems neverending, but if you can look past it all, even temporarily, it’s pretty obvious that there’s a lot more to this show than first appearances suggest.
Rue, for instance, is a very compelling character, born just three days after the September 11th attacks and quickly diagnosed with a variety of mental health issues. Having overdosed and been found in a pool of vomit by her sister Gia (Storm Reid), she spent the summer in rehab and left with no intention of remaining clean; her substance abuse is to stave off her lingering psychological issues, and she’s content with the idea that it’s a short-term solution to a long-term problem. And she’s far from the only one with problems. Euphoria Episode 1 introduces us to lots of similarly dysfunctional characters, including Jules (Hunter Schafer), a new-in-town trans girl with an extremely complicated romantic life, an unhinged neanderthal-like jock, Nate (Jacob Elordi), and his equally morally flexible on-again-off-again girlfriend Maddy (Alexa Demie).
It’ll be a bit much for some, which is understandable. Euphoria is packed with copious drug use and sexual deviance and tangled, inevitably traumatic relationships that are sure to result in horrible violence and emotional terror. But it’s also very stylish and slick, with a simmering sense of tension, and it’s well-stocked with intriguing characters whose plights are relatable and complex. Euphoria Episode 1, as potentially off-putting as it might be, definitely hints at something truly honest and memorable in the show’s future.
Jonathon is the Co-Founder of Ready Steady Cut and has been Senior Editor and Chief Critic of the outlet since 2017.