Why Euphoria Isn’t as Harmful as You Think

Euphoria has received lots of backlash from critics and fans alike, but is it really as controversial as people assume it is?

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The Ringer

Rue and Jules from Euphoria.

Euphoria contains mature themes such as drug use, sexual violence, strong language, and other sensitive topics. Trigger warning for the content ahead. 

Euphoria is one of the most popular shows on TV right now. It became the most streamed show on HBO Max the night season two premiered. It has been praised for its stunning visuals and beautiful soundtrack, along with its dynamic and interesting characters. It’s one of my favorite shows, and I could not contain my excitement when I heard that season two would be coming out this year. Naturally, I fell into a rabbit hole of articles and reviews to prepare for the new season and while a lot of them remained positive and aligned with my own opinion, there were still plenty that were very critical of the show’s motives.

This is something that gets brought up a lot when talking about Euphoria. People think that the show is unrealistic in its portrayal of teens today. I would be lying if I said Euphoria isn’t over-theatrical, and I think that is what draws people into the show, but also pushes others away from it. For people who have experienced the themes that are mentioned in Euphoria, such as drug abuse and sexual assault, looking back at their time in high school can bring up a lot of dark memories. For them, high school wasn’t the visual experience the show makes it out to be, and that’s where a lot of the arguments that Euphoria glamorizes harmful behavior starts.

Characters in season one at a homecoming dance. (HBO)

I think this criticism comes from a fair place; the film industry often exploits the minds of young audiences by introducing them to the heavy subject matter in a way that encourages actions that are not in the interest of their well-being. However, I do not think Euphoria falls into that criticism. At first glance, the show may bring up concerns, but once you really dive into it, you begin to realize Euphoria is a show based on the struggle of its characters.


Rue

The story follows Rue, a 17-year-old drug addict struggling to stay sober while she copes with the death of her father. When we are first introduced to Rue’s drug abuse, she is high at a party. She looks like she’s having a good time, stumbling around a room as airy music plays behind her and purple hues light her face. But this is not the reality of her addiction, and we learn this very early on.

Rue and Ali in season one of Euphoria. (HBO)

We find out the summer before her junior year, her sister found her overdosed and Rue spent the rest of the summer in rehab. Throughout the show, we see her make some pretty horrendous decisions. She destroys the relationships she has with the people she loves, and at times it’s incredibly difficult to watch. Rue struggles to come to terms with those decisions and sees herself as a bad person who is undeserving of love, but that’s where Ali is introduced. Ali is Rue’s mentor, and some of the most powerful moments in the show are their conversations. Ali is a drug addict who has been sober for seven years. He’s able to break through Rue’s tough demeanor and give her the honesty she so desperately needs to hear. Ali has been through everything Rue is experiencing, so he doesn’t talk to her with anger, but with sympathy. He helps Rue and the audience understand that drug abuse is a disease that she has found herself victim to and even after everything she has done, she is still a person deserving of love.

I know plenty of people my age who have done drugs at some point or another. I know there are teenagers in America who are struggling with addiction. I don’t believe Euphoria encourages the use of drugs, but is rather helping to change how we discuss drug addiction. We often assume that people are in control of their addictions, when that isn’t the case at all. Euphoria provides a perspective on drug addiction that fosters compassion. It is helping young people who have the same struggles as Rue understand that they are worthy of redemption and that their addiction does not define who they are.


Jules

Jules is another very dynamic character. She is transgender and that’s where we see most of her character arch. For a long time, I didn’t really know how to feel about Jules. She sometimes acts with selfish intentions and her motives are not always clear but, in 2021, her special episode was released following the first season and I fell in love with her character. The episode was co-written by Hunter Schafer who plays Jules. The episode is set up as a therapy session. During the session, Jules discusses her sexuality and her relationship with her femininity.

Jules in her special episode of Euphoria. (IndieWire)

This is something we see her struggle with all throughout the first season. She wants to appear to the male gaze in hopes that it will validate her existence as a woman. She slowly starts to discover that womanhood doesn’t have to be put on the binary scale our society places it on. One of my favorite quotes from the entire show comes from when she is describing her love for the ocean and comparing it to her identity as a woman. She says, “I think like I want to be as beautiful as the ocean. Because the ocean is strong as f–k and feminine as f–k and like both are what makes the ocean the ocean.”

She then goes on to explain that for her, being trans is spiritual, and it’s something she gets to define for herself. While I am a cis woman and I will never know what it is like to be trans, I truly believe that this episode will have an important impact on how transgender individuals are portrayed in film and TV in the future. Good LGBTQ+ representation is hard to come by find in media, and I’m grateful Euphoria has given young queer people representation that is not only realistic to their experience but also impactful to those who are unaware of their struggles.


I walked away from Euphoria feeling like I had discovered something new about myself and also the people around me.”

I walked away from Euphoria feeling like I had discovered something new about myself and also the people around me. I find it disappointing that the show is held to the standards of its criticism when it is so much more than that. I won’t argue that Euphoria isn’t for everyone, like I mentioned before there are a lot of mature themes that are consistent throughout the show. However, if you are someone who thinks you can handle these themes, don’t let the controversy surrounding the show stop you from watching it.