HBO remake of Israeli show ‘Euphoria’ mired in controversy

Series criticized for its excessive nudity, drug use and violence.

June 17, 2019 14:30
2 minute read.
HBO remake of Israeli show ‘Euphoria’ mired in controversy

Hunter Schafer and Zendaya appear in HBO's 'Euphoria'. (photo credit: EDDY CHEN/HBO)


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Euphoria, an HBO remake of an Israeli show by the same name, is slated to premiere on Sunday night, amid a whole lot of buzz and a fair amount of controversy.

The US remake of the show was created and written by Sam Levinson, and stars Zendaya (The Greatest Showman; Spider-Man). It is based on the HOT series of the same name that aired for one season in 2012, which tells the story of a group of teenagers involved in drugs. HBO says its show “follows a group of high school students as they navigate love and friendships in a world of drugs, sex, trauma, and social media.”

Producers on the show include the rapper Drake, as well as Ron Leshem and Daphna Levin, the creators of the original Israeli show. And in the week leading up to its premiere, the show has made dozens of headlines, with much of the focus on the graphic violence, sex and drug use depicted among the teenagers in the show.

An article in The Hollywood Reporter last week about the show went viral after it noting that “In one episode alone, close to 30 penises flash onscreen.” The Hollywood Reporter also claimed that one original cast member of the show, Brian Bradley, 22, decided to exit the show after he was “uncomfortable” with its content and plot lines.

Last week, the Parents Television Council issued a warning to parents about the graphic content of the show.

“HBO... appears to be overtly, intentionally, marketing extremely graphic adult content – sex, violence, profanity and drug use – to teens and preteens,” said the council’s president, Tim Winter.

A review of the show in Variety said that “the premiere careens so chaotically, and is so aggressively jarring that it would be completely understandable if viewers tuned out just to avoid the sheer stress of it all.”

The New Yorker pointed out that “There are dead-eyed, graphic sex scenes, non-consensual sex tapes, beatings, underage camming, and chronic male nudity.”

A review in the Washington Post said Euphoria “is banal and derivative and worse than that: It’s a series designed to profit off misplaced panic about teenagers.”

Vulture said the show is “artfully photographed, but often hard to look at because it is so suffocatingly bleak... it’s gratuitous for reasons that don’t always seem necessary.

Despite the controversy and criticism, the show has also received praise from early reviews.

Vanity Fair said its “vision of teenage dissipation, even when it goes awry, is shockingly gorgeous, a color-saturated vision of California youth that picks up on deep purples, candy pinks, and flat, orangey haze. It’s a provocative juxtaposition—a bleak view of over-drugged, hyper-sexed American youth, but depicted in a way that makes it all seem romantic, enviable, and apparently free.”

Entertainment Weekly gave the show a decidedly mixed review, noting first that “Euphoria is often exploitative, wannabe ‘realism’... [t]he second episode is ultraviolent to a degree that is just ridiculous.” Still, it said, “In its quieter moments, though, this is a sensitive teen drama, digging past characters’ identities into their souls.”

With all the buzz surrounding the series – and just after the end of HBO’s flagship series Game of Thrones – it remains to be seen if controversy will translate to ratings for Euphoria.

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