Rated TV MA – Adult Content, Adult Language, & Violence, said the content warning as it flashed across my screen while I settled in to watch the Season 2 finale of HBO’s Euphoria.
I remember watching Euphoria, a show focused on a teen drug addict and the stories of various people in her life, for the first time back in 2019. Over time, I saw how the show slowly began to gain popularity. Euphoria makeup videos popped up on my social media, songs from its soundtrack topped the charts, and everyone constantly discussed the toxic relationship of Nate Jacobs (Jacob Eloridi) and Maddy Perez (Alexa Demie). Since then, the show has taken over with hundreds of thousands of teens, including myself, tuning in every Sunday night to watch the latest episode.
To me, what makes the show so popular (aside from its acting, makeup/costume design, and cinematography of course) is its ability to depict teen emotion and struggle in such a raw and provocative way. However, to express this struggle, the show frequently includes graphic depictions of drug use, explicit sexual content, and violence, leading to various content warnings at the beginning of each episode. Shows like this, which may or may not provide an accurate depiction of high school, can have a clear impact on how kids perceive things and how they behave. However, I still believe that it’s okay, and maybe even important, for teens to watch these shows. Despite these depictions, it’s the best way to get people talking about serious issues.
A large portion of Euphoria is focused on the main character, Rue Bennett (Zendaya), and her battle with drug addiction. Throughout the show, Rue is seen taking various drugs – from marjiuana to opiates to fentanyl. As she struggles to stay sober, she is seen stealing, lying, arguing, and being physically and emotionally destructive until eventually reaching rock bottom.
In my experience at Oyster River, hard drug use is not something I have witnessed or heard about very often, if at all. Sophia Isaak (‘22), who is also a fan of the show, agrees saying, “I know a lot of people who are addicted to nicotine, but I don’t know anyone who has an addiction as extreme as [Rue’s].”
Although Euphoria’s portrayal of drug use may be less applicable at ORHS, that doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist at all. I’m sure there are schools across the state and the country where teen drug addiction and drug abuse are common issues. In fact, according to “Drug Use Among Youth: Facts & Statistics” from the National Center for Drug Abuse Statistics, “4,777 Americans aged 15 to 24 years old died of an overdose of illicit drugs [from 2018-2019]” and in New Hampshire specifically, teenagers are “27.56% more likely to have used drugs in the last month than the average American teen.”
Another issue prevalent throughout Euphoria is toxic relationships, with scenes including dishonesty, manipulation, and even verbal and physical abuse often found in the hour-long episodes. This seems to occur in real high school life as well. “I know a lot of people that have definitely had toxic relationships, where people are codependent on each other and they don’t really have the most healthy thing,” explains Isaak. However, Isaak says that it’s still not as extreme as the show makes it out to be.
Euphoria’s depictions of drug abuse and toxic relationships may be occasionally dramatized, but they’re still portraying issues in a way that not every other teen-targeted show does. And those aren’t the only issues that the show tackles. It also frequently talks about mental health, gender identity, sexuality, and grief from childhood trauma, all of which many teens deal with in their own lives. For teens who are dealing with these things, it can be validating to see their experiences represented in the media. For others, watching this show can be a good way to understand those experiences and maybe even learn how to help the people around them. All in all, the show is starting conversations. It’s getting people to talk about things that they wouldn’t normally talk about.
I’ll admit, there are some arguments that could be made against allowing or encouraging teens to watch the show. The intense, graphic scenes could potentially be very triggering for people, while the scenes portraying risky or violent behavior could lead teens to thinking that such behaviors are acceptable. For instance, one recurring plot line includes a character physically and emotionally his on and off girlfriend without getting reprimanded or facing any real consequence. Lilly Henderson (‘22) also points out how the depictions of excessive drug use and partying can have a negative effect on those watching. She says, “sometimes it mainly just shows the actions which is bad because it’s like, ‘oh it’s happening to this person on TV, [so] it must be fine for me to do too.’”
This idea is something I’ve actually started to notice myself on social media. For example, one post I saw recently was titled: “Outfits I’d Wear to Get Nate Jacobs’s Attention,” referring to a main character with anger issues who is physically and emotionally abusive. This video made it seem like it’s a good thing and maybe even necessary to attract the attention of guys like Nate Jacobs. Making videos like this could possibly change the way that us teens perceive healthy relationships.
That being said, this idea isn’t unique to Euphoria. There are plenty of other popular shows, like Riverdale or Outer Banks, that also depict teens engaging in risky behavior. In this case, Euphoria actually has some substance to its content. I’d rather watch something that has depth to its characters and their storylines than a show about teenagers just looking for buried treasure.
Plus, the second season of Euphoria has done a better job at showing the consequences of drug addiction, allowing teens to get a better idea of what to expect. As Isaak says, “people say that [Euphoria] kind of glorifies drugs, but I feel like they put a lot of emphasis on how hard addiction can be on people like your family [and] your friends. They focus a lot on the bad parts of it and how to actually help someone who is addicted. So, I think it’s actually kind of spreading awareness of it.”
Overall, it’s pretty clear that Euphoria is tackling serious issues and releasing content meant for mature audiences. However, you can’t change the fact that teens are going to watch the show no matter what. School Counselor, Jason Baker, compares the situation to 13 Reasons Why, another popular teen drama that came out a few years ago and focuses on a girl’s suicide. “I remember when 13 Reasons Why came out and it was like, prepare for the storm. Netflix did the trigger warning, the American School Counselor Association was having these conversations with Netflix, and then there were various webinars.” Baker continues, “there were different camps of people too. Some thought it was unnecessary to create a show focused on suicide and others thought it was a good way to educate people.”
He believes that the best way to approach shows like this is to make a clear distinction: let the entertainment be entertainment while still using it as an avenue to start conversations. Even if it may not always be an accurate representation of high schools like Oyster River, it’s an opportunity to talk about real issues that many people do experience. “Without devaluing what Euphoria is, you can recognize that ‘okay that was a show, but what’s the real life application?’” Baker explains.
As for parents, who may be shocked to discover that their kids are watching this show, Baker advises them to take a small step back. “Let kids go and let them watch, but also be available. If they have any questions or concerns, watch it with them or watch it on the side and know what’s coming up, so that if and when there are questions there can be mature conversations.”
Euphoria season two has now wrapped up, meaning that it will be a year or two before another season comes to tackle a whole other set of issues. When watching this show, whether you’re a regular viewer or a first time watcher, keep in mind the content warnings but don’t let them scare you away.
And as for me and the rest of the Euphoria fans out there who just finished the final episode, we’ll just have to wait for our favorite teen drama to return for season 3.