Written and Directed by Sam Levinson
Original Air Date: January 9th, 2022
The first ten minutes of Euphoria’s season two premiere is perhaps one of the very best short films you will see this year. Following the origins of Fez (Angus Cloud) and adoptive brother Ashtray (Javon ‘Wanna’ Walton), Sam Levinson’s script and direction feverishly explores the childhood of both, how their lives became connected, and how both ended up in a world of drug dealing and organised crime.
It is as dark, violent and confrontational as Euphoria gets. Given that this is in fact Euphoria is really saying something. Unsurprisingly, an erect penis is shown in all its glory as the owner of said appendage has both his upper thighs shot not long after receiving oral sex in a strip club.
Welcome back to Euphoria folks.
The series remains a stylish and shocking incursion into teen life. Levinson is as unflinching as ever with his camera as it roves ever more cinematically in sequences depicting substance abuse and teen sexuality that will undeniably give more conservative viewers a coronary as they reach for their notepads to write long-winded detailed letters to The Daily Mail about how filthy it all is and won’t someone please think of the children.
As always, one is reminded of the works of Larry Clark and Gregg Araki while watching all of it, as its teenage characters indulge in graphic depictions of drug-taking, sex and violence, all of which is captured in a stylish manner on 35mm film. It’s not subtle. Nothing with Levinson ever is as evidenced by Malcolm and Marie, his Netflix film from last year that saw him once again collaborate with Zendaya.
As with the first season and one-half of last year’s two powerful specials that bridged the long gap between this season and its predecessor, the actress holds your attention with an intense power that goes beyond her previous work as MJ in the Spider-Man films or The Greatest Showman.
American television loves its teen dramas and the star-making roles that come with them, and this is no exception. The same goes for Hunter Schafer as Jules. Like the best of the most mainstream teen dramas you can think of, Euphoria, for all its filmmaking innovation and shock tactics, gets so much of its storytelling mileage and beating heart from a love story and an exploration of companionship at a time when one’s emotions can be significantly magnified by the experience of growing up.
It’s as far as possible to get stylistically and tonally from Dawson’s Creek and My So-Called Life, but it works wonders because of just how much power Levinson’s storytelling is mining, not to mention the considerable chemistry between Zendaya and Schaefer.
He doesn’t just point his camera and film them. He turns their moments together into something grandiose and powerfully cinematic, using every trick at his disposal to turn their story into a quiet epic that captures how vividly powerful teenage emotions are in a way that very few television series have ever been able to capture before in terms of visuals. The moment their eyes meet during a New Year’s House party and the light from an outside fire captures every look on their face is more cinematic than the majority of most feature films nowadays.
As always, your mileage may vary depending on how you can cope with the more extreme content on display. The episode is barely two minutes old before we get our first glimpse of an erection, and later on, we’re treated to full front male nudity again when a side character needs to go to the toilet, not to mention the full-on bloody violence that erupts in the final scene that will shock and yet maybe have you cheering at the same time given who its doled out to.
It might come as maybe too much for some, and even ardent viewers of the series may find at least one thing that might make them question how far Levinson is taking things. On the basis of this first episode, however, this still remains one of television’s most confrontational and sensational series, venturing into territory within a genre that television rarely goes to in a sea of dramas that usually feature teenage protagonists.
You can see why it is one of the most controversial series on the air, but why it has also enraptured a devoted following.