Euphoria: Introduction

Curator's Note

Euphoria (Levinson, 2019-present) has redefined teen TV. The series has proven to be far rawer and grittier than previous teen shows. The controversies surrounding Dawson’s Creek (Williamson, 1998-2003), for instance (Webber, 2019), pale in comparison to Euphoria’s. The TV-MA content in Euphoria comes with the territory of HBO–the company that greenlit Sam Levinson’s project. “Series creators working for HBO are allowed the creative freedom to present language, nudity and violence that far exceeds the MPAA (Motion Pictures Association of America) rating of NC-17” (Tait, 2008, p. 54). In this way, HBO creates its brand by marrying conventional TV genres with NSFW content. In the case of Euphoria, the teen soap opera is mixed with graphic sex, drugs, and violence.

Although the press has covered the controversies surrounding Euphoria, and specifically the “30 penises [that] flash onscreen” (Sandberg, 2019, n.p.) in the first episode (“Pilot,” 1.1) (see Kirkland, 2019; see Lehman, 2020, p. 287; see Romano, 2019), many media studies journals have forgone explicitly discussing Euphoria. Stefania Marghitu examines the series as part of her exploration of Gen Z TV (2021, pp. 188-200). Michelle Kaufman et al. dissect Reddit users' comments to scrutinize viewers' reactions to substance abuse and mental health issues (2021). Jennie Votava investigates how Euphoria appropriates Shakespeare (2020). Beyond Marghitu’s book and these two scholarly essays, Euphoria has not been academically analyzed. We hope that our short essays help scholars to think not just about the controversies that surround Euphoria, but the show’s impact on popular culture and television.


Works Cited:

Kaufman, M. R., Bazell, A. T., Collaco, A., & Sedoc, J. (2021). “This show hits really close to home on so many levels”: An analysis of Reddit comments about HBO’s Euphoria to understand viewers’ experiences of and reactions to substance use and mental illness. Drug and Alcohol Dependence, 220.

Kirkland, J. (2019). “Euphoria’s 30 Penises Scene Was Pointlessly Gratuitous When It Didn't Have to Be.” Esquire.

Lehman, P. (2020). The Prosthetic Penis and the Trans Penis: Changing Representations of and Cultural Discourses About the Penis. Studies in Gender & Sexuality, 21(4), 285–290.

Marghitu, S. (2021). Teen TV. Routledge.

Sandberg, B. (2019). “HBO’s Explicit ‘Euphoria’ Courts Controversy: How Much Teen Sex and Drugs Is Too Much?” The Hollywood Reporter.

Romano, E. (2019). “HBO’s Euphoria Flashes 30 Penises on Screen in One Episode Alone.” Men’s Health.

Tait, R., C. (2008). “The HBO-ification of Genre.” Cinephile.

Votava, J. M. (2020). The Ethiop’s Jewel Meets Euphoria’s Jules: Race, Gender, and Sexuality in an HBO Appropriation of Shakespeare. Shakespeare Bulletin, 38(4), 593–614.

Webber, E. C. (2019). The Liberatory Potential of Dawson’s Creek: Panicked Reactions to Teen Sex and Television in 1990s US Culture. The Velvet Light Trap, 50–63.

Shows Referenced:

Levinson, S. (Creator). (2019-present). Euphoria [Television Series]. HBO.

Williamson, K. (Creator). (1998-2003). Dawson’s Creek [Television Series]. The WB.

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