New Foxtel series Euphoria doesn't start until tonight - it airs at 9.30pm on the Fox Showcase channel - but it is already whipping up a frenzy of controversy. Question is: does the drama, which stars former Disney actress Zendaya as Rue, a highschooler who spent the summer in rehab, deserve the furore? Watch the trailer for Euphoria below.
Having seen the first couple of episodes, there is no denying that Euphoria does not hold back. It is littered with graphic scenes featuring sex, nudity and drug use. And it presents a grim, almost nihilistic view of teenage life.
In the US, the Parents Television Council have called for it to be shelved, complaining, "HBO, with its new high school centered show Euphoria, appears to be overtly, intentionally, marketing extremely graphic adult content – sex, violence, profanity and drug use – to teens and preteens."
Addressing the controversy, Foxtel issued a statement saying, "This series is not for everybody and it’s not for your 14 year old. Parental Guidance is advised for our customers using streaming and there’s a good reason why the channel timeslot is 9.30pm. The show isn’t always easy to watch, and there is no question it pushes the boundaries, but it is provocative, authentic and unforgettable."
Two pretty opposite views. So what's the truth?
There's no denying the content of Euphoria is not appropriate for young viewers. Parents, take note - it makes the likes of Riverdale and Gossip Girl look like Play School. But Euphoria doesn't depict anything that you don't see in shows like The Wire (crime, drug use, profanity) or Game of Thrones (sex, nudity), both highly acclaimed and widely celebrated series. Also shows you wouldn't necessarily want your 14-year-old kid to watch.
Of course, the difference is that Euphoria features more teenage characters than either series and is set mostly in high school. (One other difference: while full-frontal nudity was de rigueur in GoT, Euphoria evens the playing field with its headline-grabbing scenes featuring male genitalia.)
So is it a problem that we're seeing things that would be more or less acceptable in an adult drama in a "teen" drama? Whether you like to admit it or not, teenagers have sex, take drugs, swear, commit crimes, watch pornography and drink alcohol. So in that sense, Euphoria isn't necessarily showing anything that doesn't already happen.
And for the most part, the series does not glamorise those behaviours. Rue suffered a near-fatal drug overdose, and we see the impact of that on her family, particularly her younger sister, Gia (Storm Reid), who discovered Rue covered in vomit, lying on the floor. The fact that Rue, now out of rehab, cannot shake her addictions is a character flaw, portrayed credibly by Zendaya. We're rooting for her, and have empathy with her struggle, but what she's doing is not cool.
The sex scenes also often come with built-in consequences. Have sex at a house party with someone you barely know and a video of the encounter might just end up online. Try to antagonise your pumped up jock of an ex boyfriend, who has anger management issues, by having sex with someone else in a swimming pool in front of a crowd on onlookers and chances are he's going to take it out on someone.
The characters in Euphoria are mostly making horrible decisions as they explore their sexuality and experiment with various substances. It's too early to tell yet whether they are going to learn from their experiences - and not in an after-school special kind of way; it's certainly not that kind of show. But if there is character growth and development down the line, then perhaps the journey to get there will be justified.
Does Euphoria deserve the controversy? Yes, it's a controversial, envelope-pushing show that grapples with important issues about teenage life and the influences that shape them - one sex scene involves a high school student copying the types of behaviour he's seen in pornography because no one has ever taught him any differently.
And it's a series that concerned parents should ensure they watch before their children so they can make an informed judgement about it. It is also well acted, slickly produced and thoughtfully scripted. So controversial, yes. Bad? No.