Discover more from in a panoramic?
Euphoria: An Ode To Mediocrity
Tiktok, the state of criticism and a terrible TV show.
For all intents and purposes, I am a hater.
It’s post-ironic at this point to state such a thing, between the ‘let people enjoy things’ demands of media shills and the deep-rooted cynicism of film twitter spaces it feels almost cringe to admit that I love to hate things. I guess the more clear statement would be that I love to critique things, I adore breaking down the parts of a whole sum and figuring out what works for me and what doesn’t. The greatest pleasure I can gain from a piece of art is that it allows me to critically examine it without feeling as if I must dislike its entire existence. But Euphoria is not one of those pieces of art. It is the antithesis to criticism, it is the self inflated ego of a man who’s flying too close to the sun and just about misses out on burning his entire being.
I must state that I am not the only one with such a polarised take on the show, it is on everyone’s lips. To some, it’s the perfect representation of a burnt-out and hyper online teenage audience. To others, it’s simply another example of adults in Hollywood not knowing how to talk about adolescence without veering into hypersexuality. Euphoria is the American child of Skins and it is Riverdale with shots of dicks in every scene. It’s a Tumblr wet dream.
When Euphoria first appeared on my radar in 2018 I must admit that my aversion to the series stemmed from a rather shallow discomfort of sexuality as well as the supposed glamourisation of drugs. I do still believe the show engages in sexualisation, but it is not the inherent depiction of sex I now take issue with, it is the objectification of the characters. As for the depictions of drugs, I believe that whilst the show uses incredibly glamorised imagery it juxtaposes the downward spirals of addiction to show the literal highs and lows of Rue’s journey. That is as close as I will get to complimenting the show because every other aspect falls flat when you examine it more closely.
Euphoria is Sam Levinson’s first TV show and second egregious attempt at talking about being a teenager in the modern-day. The first attempt is his directorial debut, ‘Assassination Nation’ which attempts to examine the idea of ‘what if the Salem Witch Trials occurred today’. It’s not good and frankly, I’m shocked Euphoria seems to be as level headed as it can be with that film as a predecessor. Within that film, Levinson made it clear that he has a very specific view of women, that they can either be the sexual harlot who becomes devoid of sympathy and is punished for said sexual liberation; If not then they must be sexually avoidant so they can be written as nuanced characters.
But when Levison isn’t writing films to get back at critics who disliked his meandering attempt at #feminism (Malcolm and Marie), he’s writing, directing, creating and at this point putting to sleep the baby that is Euphoria. Because god forbid anyone else touch it, nobody could dare add in any semblance of depth or coherent storytelling, otherwise, it wouldn’t be authentic enough to his worldview. You know the one where themes such as teenage Sex Work, Domestic Violence, Homophobia, Sexual Assault and so on are brought in and used purely as a topcoat for incredibly dull and at times mind-boggling character arcs. (I am aware that Hunter Schafer babysat for an episode but that’s a one-off that was not aired in either season nor did her writing seem to impact the wider themes of the second season).
Levinson falls in a long line of male directors who believe themselves to be the auteurs of their time, even down to the alleged overworking of his cast and crew. Creatives like him assume that it is solely down to them to present the issues of a generation and that without their incredibly tiring voices topics of importance will somehow cease to be spoken about. He is this meme personified but without any of the artistic merit of a Peele or even more similarly of a Tarantino, a creative with a similar track record of misogyny and dangerous shooting practices.
However, I do believe Euphoria is the perfect show for where we exist as a culture at this current time, but please don’t assume that’s a supportive statement in any fashion. The fact I see it that way feels more like a terrifying omen if anything. Euphoria is a PBS after school special expanded into 8 episodes of terrible dialogue and unfortunately decent cinematography. But most notably the airing of Euphoria and the rise of Tiktok seem to be an almost fated occurrence. The show first came on our screens in 2019, a year after the app then known as Musical.ly was transformed into the horror show we know today as Tiktok. Euphoria is a show that seems to deflect every attempt at genuine criticism, it does not for a second pause to correct course or self reflect. Tiktok also engages in discourse in a similar format, it speaks first and thinks second.
There is something to be said about how an app such as TikTok has cornered the marketplace of critical thought. Not that this wasn’t an issue on Tumblr, Twitter, Youtube or a myriad of other online spaces, for years we have seen how the concept of criticism has been battled until its dying breath leaving us with a hollow and decrepit state of discourse. But it is specifically on this app where there seems to be no such thing as a nuanced take. This is seen most notably when you look at Euphoria and the discourse it has garnered throughout its Season 2 run.
If you critique a show on Tiktok such as Euphoria you give yourself the kiss of death, your mentions are flooded with people demanding you retract a simple analysis on how perhaps they seem to be unfairly mad at Jules (Hunter Schafer) because they hold less grace for trans women. And you can’t mute these comments, the app doesn’t allow you to do so, in fact, it seems to gleefully allow a train of hate to come your way until you choose to abandon the app entirely until the comments move onto the next take they dislike. If I were Levinson I’d even be thankful for the platform and its mind-numbing attempts to convey his terrible writing as secretly deep and meaningful.
The cult following of the show resembles the very essence of Levinson’s creative practice. They too believe that the gravitas of nudity is some deep underlying commentary on misogyny. If you state that there is a lack of nuance involved in the depiction of Cassie’s (Sydney Sweeney) choice to engage in an affair with her best friend’s ex-boyfriend, you are told that you’re in defence of choosing a white woman over a woman of colour (Alexa Demie), even though Levinson has never overtly commented on the racial dynamics of the characters in the show. If you say that Kat (Barbie Ferreira) has been sidelined and that perhaps attempting to engage in a body positivity storyline whilst diminishing a fat actress’s involvement is somewhat harmful, you are told that “well actually he meant to do this and it’ll all make sense next season”.
For every criticism, there is a deflection, and I’d be lying if I pretend as if this hasn’t always been the case when it comes to rabid fandoms and their lack of critical analysis for the media they engage with. However, for some reason, this show has reached levels that I have never seen before and that does worry me. How is the show enjoyable if you spend every waking moment defending its poor choices and god awful shooting practices? Is it worth watching something if you have to make thread long tweets trying to convey what Sam was going for because he simply was unable to do so himself?
Perhaps I ask that not only to you but also to myself as someone who still watches the show, it’s a trainwreck I can’t seem to avert my eyes from and week to week I find myself engrossed with the delirious spectacle of it all. Am I simply part of the problem if I continue to watch, write and talk about the show? Or am I serving some greater purpose that I envision myself to have as a critic and someone who loves television?
When I think of the landscape of media at the moment and its relationship to criticism I think of a piece written by my dear friend Charlie, called In Defence of Critique: Let People Enjoy Not Enjoying Things. In the piece she states;
“When our media landscape is inextricable from capital, we move through the messaging and ideology of monopolized capitalism even as passive witness. To look is to love, it is the quality of being thoughtful that allows us to perceive the pain and pleasure in the sights and sounds around us. And so we need critique, we need criticism, and we need to want to be observant, careful, and patient. These things elevate culture and more importantly elevate discourse, perhaps with time moving us away from a pithy liberal presentation of marketable representation and into a fluid, poetic, multifaceted cultural consciousness.”
Perhaps this is what we should take from the trainwreck that is Euphoria.