Popular HBO show treads line of gritty realism and fantastic romanticization of tough topics


  • Spoiler Warning for Season 1&2 of Euphoria – 

The fifth episode of Euphoria premiered on HBO and HBOMax this week. The HBO original first aired in 2019 and addresses the tough topics of sex, drugs and sexuality.

Lead character Rue, played by Zendaya, is a struggling drug addict forced to rehab when her drug use results in an overdose. However, right after her return from rehab, she immediately relapses. 

Rue eventually comes clean throughout the show because of her relationship with Jules, played by Hunter Schafer. However, after the event of Jules leaving Rue at the train station, she soon goes back to her old habits.

In episode five of the second season, Rue is seen withdrawing from opioids, and viewers can see her disrupt others’ lives by running away from her mom, who is trying to take her to the hospital. She also is affecting strangers’ lives by crashing family events as she avoids arrest from the police.

Although the series is a huge success and spawning awards for the lead actress, fans have always been wary and accused the show of glorifying/romanticizing challenging issues like drug use and sex work. 

Twitter user @VETERANEMO shows their disdain for the HBO series in a tweet. 

“Euphoria pisses me off. Total romanticization of drug use among teens and vulnerable populations. No real outcome/consequences just silly little girl drama and fentanyl”

They end their tweet by saying that viewers who watch the show are immature.

However, not everyone agrees with this claim of romanticization, such as Twitter user @afroxbaby, who commented on the discussion. The user says that people are confusing good cinematography with romanticization and believes that people who think that Euphoria romanticizes anything do not deserve opinions on social media. 

This topic does not only occur on social media but has been a question and worry of fans since the show’s start.

During an ATX Television Festival Q&A panel, the creator and actors were asked questions from fans about the show. 

During the Q&A, a fan asked Euphoria creator Sam Levinson how he plans to work around the glamorization of young adults and sex. 

“… I think anytime you put anything on screen, it runs the risk of glamorizing it just on the sheer nature of it being on screen,” Levinson said.  

He went on to explain how it is essential for the story not to minimize uncomfortable events that people experience.

“We also have to be authentic about it; we have to say what are the purposes that drugs are serving in one’s life… Why is there a desire to do drugs? … If we are pulling our punches and we’re not showing the relief that drugs can bring, it starts to lose its impact,” Levinson said. 

He ended his statement by saying that the idea of some scenes is to make the viewer feel helpless as the characters make mistakes. 

This year, a separate discussion on Twitter ties into the 2019 Q&A session for the cast and creator of Euphoria. 

Twitter user @want90sback says,  “…If you’re going to make a film/series critical of drug use etc make one like Requiem for a dream. One that makes an average viewer physically squirm and disgusted. Anything else is romanticization.” 

This tweet was just recently published in January 2022. 

Similarly, in 2019, at the Q&A panel, Levinson answers a fan’s question about whether the show will help heal her daughter, who is suffering from drug addiction. 

Levinson comments that everyone interprets content differently. 

As a recovering drug addict, Levinson remembers that when he saw Requiem for a Dream that showed mutilation as a result of heroin addiction. All he could think was that he “really ought to start shooting heroin.” 

This statement shows that Levinson didn’t interpret the content from Requiem for a Dream as a warning not to do this drug, but instead, the movie showcased how high heroin would get him. 

Some Twitter fans believe that this latest episode will put a stop to others calling out the show for glamorization. 

Twitter user @lynielromero shows her support by saying, “Tonight’s episode negates the glorification and romanticization of substance abuse that the show is being criticized for. It reminded the audience and the kids to NEVER DO DRUGS!.”

However, others are still searching for answers from portrayals in the first season that they claim romanticize sex work and pedophilia. 

Euphoria airs every Sunday at 9 p.m. EST. Viewer discretion is advised as the content being shown is for mature audiences. 

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