'Euphoria': 5 things to know about TV's most talked about new show

The drama premiered Sunday night.

June 18, 2019, 3:59 AM

Hours before HBO's new drama "Euphoria" premiered on Sunday night, its star, Zendaya, took to social media to issue a warning to fans.

Explaining that the series, which focuses on a group of teens struggling to figure out life, is for "mature audiences," she said some of the scenes are "graphic, hard to watch and can be triggering."

Some fans, she said, should not tune in.

"It's a raw and honest portrait of addiction, anxiety and the difficulties of navigating life today," she wrote. "Please only watch if you feel you can handle it. Do what's best for you. I will still love you and feel your support."

But what exactly makes the show, which currently has a 79% rating on Rotten Tomatoes, so buzzworthy? Here are a few things to know.

1. It's based on a true story: Sam Levinson, the showrunner and the son of director Barry Levinson, told audiences at the Los Angeles premiere that he sought to make a realistic series based on his own harrowing experiences as a young drug addict, according to The Hollywood Reporter. "Somewhere around the age of 16, I resigned myself to the idea that drugs could kill me, and there was no reason to fight it; I would just let it take me over and I'd made peace with that. By the time I was 19, I was in rehab, I'd checked in and was trying to get off of opiates and onto a more productive drug like crystal meth [so he could write]," he said. There, he realized, "I'm a liar, I'm a thief, I'm an addict, I've been s---- to almost every person in my life that I love, and I had a moment where I thought, 'I don't feel that way inside, I think I'm a better person than that.'"

Levinson has been sober for 14 years. Zendaya's character, Rue, has experiences as an addict that mirror his own.

2. It covers a lot of ground: The cast is full of young actors, all of whom are playing anxiety-addled teenagers trying to manage their lives. The character of Jules, played by actress Hunter Schafer, is a vehicle for more of Levinson's experiences, but also serves to explore issues faced by the trans community. As a young trans woman, Schafer's life also influenced the character.

"[Levinson] has been great about listening and being collaborative in terms of our storylines and our backstories. I remember when I got the role, they kept me in LA for a few extra days. We would have a meeting with him. We went to this cafe and talked for hours about our lives and how his life can mix with my own experiences to creates Jules," she told Paper magazine. "Ultimately, Jules is a combination of him and what he wrote for her before I was in the picture. Then, we added some of my own stuff in as well. So, it's a mixture."

PHOTO: Hunter Schafer, left, and Zendaya in a scene from "Euphoria."
Hunter Schafer, left, and Zendaya in a scene from "Euphoria."
Eddy Chen/HBO

3. It's explicit: Anyone who watches the show should expect a fair amount of nudity and a lot of sex scenes. "I think we're authentic to the experience of being young. We didn't want to pull any punches. We didn't want to make it feel like we were holding anything back or that we are hiding anything. We wanted to make it feel like it feels," Levinson told The Hollywood Reporter. He added that he didn't want to glamorize things either. In one scene, actor Eric Dane commits statutory rape; Shafer's character is the victim.

"It's very restrained. I don't think anyone would watch that show and go, 'Wow, that's so cool,'" Levinson said. "I can’t imagine that that would be the response. It's uncomfortable, it's unsettling, it's dark and it's messy emotionally."

Still, The Parents Television Council issued a warning about the series.

"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," said PTC President Tim Winter. "HBO might attach a content rating suggesting that it is intended for mature audiences, but let’s be real here: Who watches a show about high school children, except high school and junior high school-aged children? Parents urgently need to be aware of HBO's grossly irresponsible programming decision."

4. It explores how social media impacts teens: Levinson told The Hollywood Reporter that while the show isn't about technology, obviously it plays a role in a modern-day series about teenagers. "Normally [parents who see the show are] fairly inarticulate about it because it is overwhelming. It's just f------, 'We should just shut the internet down!' And you go, 'No, no, it's not just the internet's problem ... the internet is not good or bad. It just is what it is."

He went on: "It's funny, the show is not even about social media that much. We don't deal with a ton of technology. Yeah, sure, they text one another -- but you don't see them scrolling through Instagram constantly. It's not really about the internet, it's about the internet's effect on them."

5. Familiar faces are attached to the show: In addition to starring Zendaya, the show features Judd Apatow's and Leslie Mann's daughter, Maude Apatow, as Rue's childhood friend. Storm Reid of "A Wrinkle In Time" plays Rue's younger sister, and "The Hate U Give" actor Algee Smith stars as teenage athlete struggling to adjust to college. Drake serves as an executive producer.