If you had been anyplace close to social media this previous Sunday night time, you in all probability at the very least glimpsed the divisive mess that was the second season finale of Euphoria, HBO’s technicolor, gleefully extreme cleaning soap on the outsized trials and tribulations of suburban California teenagers. After a buzzy and acclaimed however modestly watched debut in 2019, the present’s second season has blown up: HBO introduced Tuesday that Euphoria, with assist from its new streaming residence on HBO Max, is now its second most watched present since 2004. It averaged 16.3 million viewers an episode this season, behind solely OG HBO juggernaut Recreation of Thrones, which drew a median of 44.2 million viewers throughout its last season in 2019.

However maybe extra spectacular, and telling, than its 2022 viewing stats is Euphoria’s digital footprint. In line with Twitter, the drama is essentially the most tweeted-about present of the (nonetheless younger) decade, with 34m tweets within the US alone. That is by design: Euphoria, tailored by Sam Levinson from the Israeli present of the identical title, is audacious in fashion, nearly pugnaciously provocative in substance, with imitable peacocking vogue and simply memeable cutaways. In different phrases, catnip for the net crowd.

Its buzziness is helped reasonably than hindered by a polarizing and, for a lot of, narratively disappointing season that sidelined beloved characters, dropped plot traces, prioritized elaborate and visually ornate tangents over character growth, doubled down on the drug abuse, dialed up the graphic violence, and went up to now up its personal ass as to have a personality stage a Broadway-budget play in regards to the present for its last two episodes. Name it disastrous, chic, exhausting, narcissistic, magnetic or all the above – no present goals for and captures the net discourse proper now higher than Euphoria. How did it change into a social media lightning rod?

Euphoria is a TV present of and for the web – interesting to our intuition to be included and our evergreen fascination with highschool, stoking a variety of reactions from outrage to appreciation (or usually each), providing seems to be and loads of avenues for takes. Watching the second season finale – by which Lexi’s (Maude Apatow) tell-all play devolved right into a catfight, beloved drug seller Fezco’s (Angus Cloud) home went down in a hail of police gunfire, and forged member Dominic Fike sang a whole authentic tune – felt like witnessing the life cycle of a Twitter Occasion. You get the dopamine hits of lovely photos and caps-locked emotion, swirled with wild tonal shifts, packaged with such maximalism and gratuity as to demand a response, and emerge wired by the chaos and worn out by the entire cycle. (Fike, at the very least, was a very good sport about this – “The web stays undefeated. I’m humbled,” he posted on Instagram tales together with some memes and tweets mocking his tune.)

Barbie Ferreira, Alexa Demie and Sydney Sweeney in Euphoria.
Barbie Ferreira, Alexa Demie and Sydney Sweeney. {Photograph}: HBO/Warner Media

I’ll admit that I fall on the detrimental pole of the Euphoria debate. Halfway by the season, I wrote that the present’s lurid fashion, lack of character growth and common chaos had change into each exhausting and boring; I discovered the finale to be a gratuitous trainwreck, save for just a few quiet moments with real star Zendaya as (tidily recovered!) drug addict Rue. However I, too, take pleasure in submerging within the present swirl of reactions, reactions to the reactions, and gossip round Euphoria. (So, apparently, do a few of the forged – “it’s fascinating,” stated Sydney Sweeney of her character’s extremely memeable bathtub second. “It’s a lovely factor when you will have a personality that so many individuals are capable of relate to.”) The present has spawned a universe of memes – the Tremendous Bowl as Maddy v Cassie, actor Alexa Demie’s mysterious age – and navel-gazy however immersive Twitter beef. (See: Tony-winning playwright Jeremy O Harris, a producer on the present and shut buddy of Levinson’s, sparring with critics over his tweet that Euphoria was “made for ppl with an mind for CINEMA and never the impatience of TELEVISION” and likening it to Dickens).

Dickens it’s not, however Euphoria does have the evergreen enchantment of the unrealistic teen cleaning soap, working within the lane of the unique Gossip Lady, Degrassi, Skins, Residence and Away, One Tree Hill and The OC – reveals depicting excessive schoolers performed by scorching twentysomething actors on an inherently ridiculous merry-go-round of drama. Euphoria shares lots of the similar tropes – a blonde v brunette love triangle, absent dad and mom, and so on – dressed up with sufficient costly cinematography, nice performing, HBO finances and Dare-invoking materials to advantage critical important dialogue (and recaps on TikTok). Although it’s HBO’s youngest-skewing present, Euphoria is greatest understood as a millennial’s revisionist fantasy of their very own proto-social media highschool days, if the present digital hellscape was our teenage playground. (Levinson, the creator who wrote and directed each episode this season, is 37.) As Delia Cai just lately argued in Vainness Truthful, Euphoria inflames the millennial era’s already intense fascination with highschool, notably as a framework for articulating life on-line – what else is Twitter if not a extra uncovered and cutthroat high-school cafeteria?

Gossip being elementary to each, intrigue has swirled prior to now couple months round alleged behind-the-scenes drama, with a lot of the frustration for the season’s shortcomings directed at Levinson, the creator whom followers like to hate. Movies tagged #SamLevinson have been seen practically 40m occasions on TikTok, in accordance with the New York Instances – practically extraordinary for an off-screen author/director, and an uncommon approach to view a tv present, which is normally the results of collaborative inventive entropy. (Euphoria, unusually for a present of its measurement, has no writers’ room.)

Sam Levinson and Zendaya.
Sam Levinson and Zendaya. {Photograph}: Jeff Kravitz/Getty Photographs for HBO

Rumors have circulated for months – on each nameless gossip accounts reminiscent of Deuxmoi, AKA the Gossip Lady of the actual world, and mainstream retailers – that stress between Levinson and Barbie Ferreira led to the discount of fan-favorite Kat, the one plus-sized important character. There’s additionally the inexplicable and complicated absence of Algee Smith’s Christopher McKay, the present’s solely black male teen, who appeared for less than a short scene within the first episode regardless of being a major focus (and sufferer of traumatic, lavishly filmed fraternity hazing) within the first season.

Interviews with quite a few forged members, from Sweeney to visitor actor Minka Kelly to Javon Walton, who performs Ashtray, have pointed to each the dominance of Levinson’s imaginative and prescient, his instincts for gratuity and the advert hoc fluidity of his course of. Kelly and Sweeney stated Levinson took their requests to not seem topless in scenes he scripted as such, igniting one other spherical of controversy; some have identified (pretty, I’d say) that Sweeney’s Cassie remains to be, greater than some other character, often bare on the present, and that an actor having to push again repeatedly on nudity in a present about youngsters is … bizarre. It doesn’t reduce Sweeney’s company as an actor, and a season MVP at that, to notice that a number of scenes that includes Cassie in misery – in an underboob bikini whereas housing a bottle of champagne, strutting in slo-mo down the aisle of Lexi’s play, in mattress with a really poisonous Nate (Jacob Elordi) – hinge on a fascination with, if not exploitation of, her physique.

The specter of Levinson’s marionette strings, the aura of the auteur, does shade one’s view of the present – I’d be extra prepared to forgive its mess, its intuition for nudity and its fixation with Rue and Cassie’s struggling if I knew it was the results of some bonkers writing room, not the mind of 1 individual. It’s simple to conflate Euphoria with Levinson, to place intense emotions with the previous on to the latter, and for stated frustration to loop again into its personal on-line joke. As Vulture author Iana Murray put it in a latest recap, Levinson’s “writing or his provocations” are “not solely a frequent goal of criticism however a bona fide meme at this level”.

Hate-watching, spectacle rubbernecking, chaos enjoyment isn’t distinctive to Euphoria (see: The Morning Present season two), however the second season has achieved an nearly excessive artwork of ambivalence, a spectacle by which depth of favor (and provocation) begets depth of response. Or, within the phrases of 1 TikTok commenter: “I’m so aggravated by this present and I’ll watch completely each episode.”

Possibly Euphoria’s third season, which can in all probability not air till the unfathomable 12 months of 2024, will course right, put some guardrails on the chaos, or rent extra writers. To cite the brand new Euphoria tune by Zendaya and Labrinth, I’m Drained. Or perhaps not – the second season’s shock and shimmer might have generated as many offended tweets as awed ones, however on-line discuss isn’t low-cost. And teenage nostalgia is aware of that feeling something, all the things, is best than nothing in any respect.


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