Shocking, provocative and controversial are some of the words used to describe creator Sam Levinson’s new HBO teen drama, Euphoria, which follows several high school students, including the drug-addled Rue (Zendaya), as they navigate the ups and downs of drugs, identity, sex, relationships and social media as well as deal with other personal traumas.
Ahead of Sunday’s premiere, Zendaya posted a message to Instagram warning her fans of the adult and explicit content they were about to witness. “Just a reminder before tonight’s premiere, that Euphoria is for mature audiences. It’s a raw and honest portrayal of addiction, anxiety and the difficulties of navigating life today,” she wrote. “There are scenes that are graphic, hard to watch and can be triggering. Please only watch if you feel you can handle it. Do what’s best for you. I will still love you and feel your support.”
In the first episode, Zendaya’s character, Rue, is seen doing multiple drugs, including snorting lines of cocaine, and overdosing in front of her younger sister, Gia (Storm Reid). The premiere also includes scenes of statutory rape and non-consensual choking during another sexual encounter. While the show features graphic scenes that make may fans uncomfortable, one of its stars, Sydney Sweeney, who is seen choked in one scene as Cassie, told ET that Euphoria is meant to be “a real look at growing up, and nothing is sugar-coated.”
“This show's very personal to me. I struggled with drug addiction for many years and anxiety and depression,” Levinson revealed, while also adding that the show had intimacy coordinators and consultants on the set to make sure everyone was comfortable filming some of the more explicit scenes.
However, that hasn’t stopped headlines from focusing on the “shocking” nature of the series. Speaking with ET’s Katie Krause at the red carpet event for Euphoria, members of the cast addressed the controversy surrounding the show and the important conversations it should be sparking about youth living in America today.
“Bring it on,” said Nika King (who plays Rue and Gia’s mother, Leslie), adding that “we need to have more conversations” about the content seen in the show, especially ‘with bullying, with shaming [and] with violence” faced by teens today.
“It was really reaffirming to me that there are things that people are going through. At times, I feel like we overlook that, especially with our social-political climate. I feel like it is important to just step back and really check on the younger people,” Reid said. “We are tackling some tough things but they are tough things that need to be addressed.”
Meanwhile, Sweeney thinks that the show will “lift the veil off some people’s views on what it’s like growing up,” she said. “We’re all just trying to figure it out.” If anything, she hopes fans can identify with the characters. “Whether you’re not going through that, there is someone out there that is dealing with [the issues faced by] Jules, Rue, Cassie, Maddy. There is something to relate to.”
Echoing her co-stars’ sentiment, Maude Apatow, who plays Rue’s former best friend, said: “It gives good insight into how young people are feeling in this moment in time, so maybe have compassion.”
“You’re not alone,” she added. “We’re all going through stuff.”
It should also be noted that the Euphoria premiere ended with a message to its audience: “If you or someone you love needs help text EUPHORIA to 741741 or visit EuphoriaResources.com.”