You know that idiom in fashion that says if you wore a trend the first time around, it’s not for you the second time? I mostly think that’s dumb, but watching the trailer for Euphoria, the new HBO teen series starring Zendaya from executive producer Drake, I started to understand, for the first time, where it came from.
Real talk - this show already looks great. In theory, the biggest hurdle of casting someone as big as Zendaya in a teen series is she’s already so clearly a star in an ‘adult’ world that it might be hard to believe she really struggles with regular ‘teenage’ problems. Euphoria alleviates that with her styling – no makeup, un-done hair, big sweatshirts – and that first shot in the high school hallway where she looks completely overwhelmed.
But, while we still don’t know a lot about the show, I started to see ghosts of other series in and around it – which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. When Kathleen wrote about it last summer, she explained that, like all the best shows (In Treatment, Homeland, The Affair) it’s adapted from an Israeli series that follows high schoolers navigating drugs, sex, identity, etc.
The trailer, though – “I promise you. If I could be a different person, I would” – well, that’s giving me flashbacks to Joss Whedon’s ill-fated Dollhouse. Maybe this is show is about a teen who actually gets to try being another person, or several? Because that’s a new take on the teen series, and one that’s worthy of both Drake and HBO – because you know this is going to be anything but a retread of the same old tropes. Especially since the elephant in the room is that Drake is particularly and uniquely experienced in teen drama, ahem. Plus, Zendaya’s character is named Rue, and IMDB has actors credited as ‘5 year old Rue’, ’10 year old Rue’, ’13 year old Rue’ etc, so it’s a good guess that there will be flashbacks, or even travels through time to bring us up to the point.
HBO also compared it to Kids and to Trainspotting, each of which I saw in theatres about six times when they came out -- Zendaya’s opening run is a pretty perfect homage to Ewan McGregor’s frantic, euphoric sprint in that trailer actually, and of course, the shots in clubs and clear nods to hedonism also evoke Skins, as well as Skam, the Norwegian teen series that was so hot kids were allegedly skipping school to watch the episodes uploaded in real time. Both those series flirted with adaptation for North American audiences, and neither made an impact – but the success of Riverdale means opening up the world of ‘dark’ teen lives is once again palatable, and marketable.
I have a special place in my heart for shows that were ahead of their time. I often say that if Big Love came out today, it would be a massive critically acclaimed hit instead of a mostly-forgotten IMDB footnote.
But in TV (and life?) timing is everything. Euphoria is not only arriving at the right time, it’s got a stacked cast – Storm Reid and Maude Apatow are also main cast members – plus, it’s clear Drake isn’t just an in-name-only Executive Producer here; his moody style and tone are all over this trailer.
So even though it may be influenced by all kinds of things that we saw ‘the first time around’, Euphoria is poised to bring all that dark teen life over the finish line in a way that actually makes a major impact, and to transport us all back to those dramatic years in a way that feels like the first time.
Attached - Drake out in London last night.