Euphoria drives the teen genre to the dark side – but it’s not the first
HBO’s award-winning series Euphoria began its new season last month with a storyline that wouldn’t surprise fans: an abusive grandmother, aggressive drug dealers, and a booze-filled house party.
Written by Sam Levinson, who is also the show’s executive producer, Euphoria follows the story of 17-year-old Rue (played by Zendaya) struggling with a lingering drug addiction as her classmates navigate love, friendships and trauma.
In January, on the date of his second season’s premiere, actor Zendaya posted a statement on his Instagram page reminding viewers that the content was intended for mature audiences.
“This season, perhaps even more so than the last, is deeply moving and deals with subject matter that can be triggering and difficult to watch,” she wrote.
Dark themes seem to be creeping into more teen shows, experts say, with series such as Gossip Girl to restart, Riverdale and Netflix series 2017 13 reasons why tackle difficult topics, including drug addiction and suicide.
Levinson, who battled his own drug addiction, told reporters at the 2019 ATX TV Festival that he wouldn’t hesitate to portray addiction in a harsh way. He also talked about finding the balance between telling stories about teens and their sex life without further fetishizing it.
“Any time you put something on screen, it risks glorifying it just by the sheer nature of what it is on screen,” he told the panel. “How do you portray drug use? How do you portray sex or sexuality in a way that makes you feel young?”
Regarding the show’s explicit sex scenes, he said the camera was often fixed in a single plane, rather than moving around and capturing different angles, allowing awkwardness and discomfort to ” spread”.
In 2019, New York-based freelance arts and culture writer Deena ElGenaidi wrote an article in Nylon on how teen TV in general was getting darker, reflecting what teenage life is like for some right now.
“Our lived reality now has become more serious, teenagers are dealing with so much more today than teenagers were in the 90s or 2000s,” she told CBC News.
WATCH | Netflix series linked to rise in youth suicides, according to an international study:
ElGenaidi Says The Teen Shows She Grew Up With Are Just Like The Original Gossip Girl Where A tree hill were more in touch with teenagers at this time, as common storylines followed friendship, teenage romances, and bullying.
“TV shows have gotten darker to the point where sometimes they’re not very realistic. It’s a show outside of our lived reality and it becomes an escapism,” she said.
Euphoria had several controversial moments this year, including a preteen drug dealer inciting violence and Rue’s near overdose after taking opioids.
Do teen dramas portray real life?
Ava Clark, an 18-year-old high school student from Toronto, says Euphoria is too dramatic when it comes to reflecting Gen Z.
“To think that everyone on the show is younger than me is crazy because, like, that never happened in high school,” she told CBC News in a Zoom interview.
“[The show] does a good job of reaching that audience, but doesn’t necessarily describe what Gen Z actually looks like.”
But 16-year-old Sromni Kang considers the show’s storylines to be relevant and educational.
“It is to teach [us] about drug addiction and all these issues that teenagers face,” she said via Zoom.
Kang said she’d rather see the effects, even if they’re intense, though she thinks such content should come with trigger warnings.
“I never would have known how to handle someone going through this [drug addiction] and seeing him makes me less critical.”
Degrassi tackled dark themes in the 80s and 90s
For years, Canada Degrassi franchise aimed at balancing difficult teenage issues with humor and charm. The series was groundbreaking for taking the risk of discussing topics that can be difficult for teenagers to discuss with their parents.
Developed by Linda Schuyler and first released in 1979 as The children of Degrassi Street, it generated popular spin-offs, including Degrassi High, Degrassi: Next Generationn and Degrassi new class.
The series was considered bold in the 80s and 90s for its ability to recognize and discuss difficult themes for teenage audiences. One of the most remarkable scenarios of Degrassi: next generationn focused on a character played by Toronto rapper Drake. His character, Jimmy Brooks, ended up in a wheelchair after being shot.
“I always like to feel like we were pushing as far as we could for the time,” Schuyler told CBC News. “In the 1980s you would never think of telling a flowing story, but now we can.”
In 2010, the show received the Peabody Award for not sensationalizing or trivializing Season 10’s first transgender male storyline titled “My Body Is A Cage”.“ to Degrassi: next generation.
“You have to recognize there’s a problem, you have to talk about it openly and honestly, but not because you’re trying to be sensational. You’re trying to be honest and genuine,” Schuyler said.
The Evolution of Teen Drama
Modern teen series have always shared the same basic teenage narratives of their predecessors, but now have the added narrative of social media in the plot, says Schuyler.
“But the key issues around acknowledging everyone’s differences and respecting them and giving them the opportunity to feel like they’re not alone, that cuts across all generations.”
Euphoria is one of the shows that shows how teenagers navigate the world, having grown up in the age of social media. The show became extremely popular during season 2 viewership grew by almost 100%according to Variety.
The show has been renewed for a third season.
Last month, HBO MAX also announcement a new hour Degrassi series to come in the spring of 2023.
Schuyler says she’s excited about the new series and the 43-year legacy the Canadian drama series has created. She also suggests that teen dramas don’t have to be too dark.
“I really think it’s important not to let the world implode and get too dark. That’s not to say I don’t take teenage issues seriously. I take them very seriously, very respectfully, but I do. just hate all the stories for being dark all the time.”