Before Euphoria returned for its second season the party line from the cast was things are going to be darker and messier and have they ever. Anastasia’s been covering the Twitter reaction to this season’s hella chaotic storyline, which (along with the reach of its new home on HBO Max) has helped the show make a huge jump in viewership. But with a bigger spotlight on the series, apparent cracks in the foundation are being noticed, with The Daily Beast publishing a piece alleging the real drama is the way this messy production functions behind the scenes.
As the piece notes, if you’ve been watching, this season feels different. I was given screeners for the first seven episodes at the beginning of the year to prep for cast interviews. I finished watching the screeners wondering why Algee Smith’s character, McKay (one of the few Black characters), appears in one episode for mere minutes and then he’s never seen again. I mean, he wasn’t a main cast member last season, but he had a storyline which I wanted to follow. Another character, not completely absent but blatantly ignored, is Kat, played by Barbie Ferreira. She has this amazing season one storyline of sexual discovery, becoming a symbol of body positivity and finding love. This season she’s all of a sudden unhappy in her relationship, without explanation – because she barely has any screen time.
Now we’re hearing that Euphoria creator/ writer/ director, Sam Levinson has tensions with certain members of the cast. According to The Daily Beast, he’s allegedly butted heads with Barbie over the direction of her character, leading her to walk off set at least twice during production on season two, but not including the time she had to be helped off set after she slipped and fell, twisting her ankle, while filming the hot tub puking scene in episode four. The strained relationship resulted in Sam cutting down her screen time, including a sex scene which was already filmed.
As I mentioned, I was producing cast interviews ahead of this season and Barbie was originally scheduled for the media op, but on the day of she wasn’t there (Algee Smith was, despite only having his one scene to discuss). Just a few days later Barbie was also absent from the premiere photo call, which most of her co-stars attended. According to a reddit user, who’s known for leaking verified info, HBO wasn’t pleased with the direction the show took this year either. Whether that’s specifically about Barbie’s storyline or just generally about Sam Levinson’s lust for cinematic shots over storyline and character development, we don’t know. However, HBO and Barbie declined to provide The Daily Beast a comment on the rift.
In gross contrast to Sam’s creative differences with Barbie, Sydney Sweeney, who plays Cassie (a major player in the plotline this year) once felt there was more room to expand on something in a scene and Sam went and wrote an additional five pages. Sydney’s also been open about voicing her opinion on when her character’s nudity seems gratuitous and how Sam would always agree and make necessary changes. Although, if you ask the internet she’s still topless way too often.
The working conditions on set are also a cause of contention. Mainly shoot days that average 15-17 hours. Factoring into those longer than necessary days the fact that Levinson rarely arrives at set with a shot list – the detailed rundown of what shots the director needs to capture. Is he just walking in and playing around until he finds a pretty camera angle? Imagine you’re working on a single-camera show where you already have to run through the scene multiple times to get different camera angles of every actor in the scene and Sam shows up without a plan, just adding to the amount of times each scene must be filmed. Even if the plan’s in his head, there’s efficiency in passing a document with the plan to the camera department, lighting department, etc. Maude Apatow, who plays Lexi, tells Thrillist, the New Year’s Eve party featured in the season premiere was shot over night from 6PM-5AM. She says, “We were trying so hard to stay awake!” And sources claim filming that scene in particular took over a week. Jacob Elordi, who plays Nate Jacobs added, “…Very quickly it’s like being in Hell. It’s like being in a party that you don’t want to be in. At all. And you can’t wait [to leave].”
My question is where is Zendaya in all of this? It’s an ensemble show, but she is the face of the brand. Not only is she the star, she’s an executive producer. I understand she may not be privy to the problems on set if she’s not around when they happen. People wouldn’t run to complain to the person who has the closest collaborative relationship with Levinson, a collab that’s already produced an Emmy – and if you’ve been watching season two, you know that second Emmy is probably being pre-engraved as we speak.
But girl, the bullsh-t has got to stop somewhere. Besides the environment on set, Zendaya didn’t think Barbie’s storyline fizzling to almost nothing was weird? She thought McKay, who was left naked and crying after being hazed by fraternity brothers last season, was fine sitting this season out? Apparently the script went through a lot of changes during their extended hiatus between seasons. Zendaya told The Cut, “There are very few things that remain in the version you’re now seeing. The things that didn’t make it definitely needed to die.” I would love to know what she thought needed to die.
As a viewer, this season is entertaining AF, but the product has room for improvement. As an actor on the show, it sounds like your experience can be wildly different depending on whether or not you’re Sam’s favourite. I think Zendaya, who is obviously Sam’s ultimate favourite, better not be oblivious to how her showrunner is running her show. Euphoria took her career to another level and from what we’re hearing her team is trying to push her career into its next phase: the Oscar contender phase. But bad press like a toxic set doesn’t help. Also, she shouldn’t want her coworkers in a toxic environment either. Sam’s season one success may have gone to his head and with season two reaching even higher heights he’s already been rewarded with a season three renewal. I’ll be interested to see if Barbie returns.