Review: ‘Euphoria’ season 2 lacks eye glitter

Jackson Parks

Zendaya in a scene from Season 2 of “Euphoria.” (Eddy Chen/HBO/TNS)
Zendaya in a scene from Season 2 of “Euphoria.” Photo courtesy of Eddy Chen/HBO

Every teen’s favorite show and new Sunday night ritual “Euphoria” returned for its highly-anticipated second season on Jan. 9.

After a two year, COVID-prompted hiatus after its first season and two special episodes which fill in the gaps left after the season one finale, the HBO series “Euphoria’s” second season takes quite the shift in theme, storylines and the overall atmosphere for the show.

“Euphoria” follows Rue Bennett (Zendaya) through her struggles of addiction and substance abuse and the melodramatic lives of her high school classmates — including her on-off again girlfriend Jules Vaughn (Hunter Schafer), a troubled, violent jock Nate Jacobs (Jacob Elordi) or a contrasting sister dynamic between Cassie (Sydney Sweeney) and Lexi Howard (Maude Apatow). The show might center around the larger scale trials and tribulations of high school students, but “Euphoria” is definitely not the typical teen drama.

A change in atmosphere and tone is very noticeable in going from season one to two. Sam Levinson, the show’s creator, describes season two as the “afterparty” to season one, explaining the latest season’s spiraling and frantic nature for all of the characters.

Levinson is very specific about his creative direction for the series, allowing for Maddy Perez (Alexa Demie) to be the only character wearing foundation, which is just so fitting for Maddy’s diva character who always has a full face of makeup on. The lack of over-the-top and colorful makeup, something that the show is most known for, adds to the intentional shift in tone.

There is also a shift in cinematography as well — something that the A24-backed series has always done justice. The second season is shot entirely on 35mm film, as opposed to being shot digitally like season one. There’s a lack of color and vibrancy that season one almost specialized in, with this season featuring a lot of yellows and more muted colors on screen.

As pretty as the show may be though, the storylines and treatment or sometimes absence of characters falls flat this season. The same relationships still fail. Rue still has not made a major change; this time around her addiction and struggles are just intensified. Characters and storylines are sidelined or feel unfinished or unused — like Kat Hernandez’s (Barbie Ferreira) noticeable lack of screen time and just lackluster, uninteresting storyline this season.

Jules, who had such a prevalent part in season one, really has nothing going on — other than sharing scenes with Rue and newcomer Elliot (Dominic Fike). Both Jules and Elliot’s “storylines” seem to revolve around the downfall of Rue and their part in it.

However, while some characters and storylines fail, others prevail. 

The increased presence and actual main character treatment of Lexi this season is such a highlight. Whether it be her step into individuality and independence, the dramatic school play she puts on, or any of her interactions with Fezco (Angus Cloud), her scenes always seem to steal the episode.

Lexi’s sister, Cassie, is also a standout character this season — an unlikeable one to most though. Cassie’s character sort of does a complete 360 and just about every choice she makes sends her deeper into the spiral that she’s fallen into: a secret affair with Nate, the ex-boyfriend of her best friend Maddy. Her storyline is a highlight because it’s just so real — someone completely losing and changing themself over an awful guy.

A character who does have an interesting and surprising turnaround this season is Cal Jacobs (Eric Dane), the father and the seeming first coming of Nate. Cal, who did some pretty awful things in season one, redeemed himself for many in the opening of the third episode of season two, which centers around Cal’s high school years. Cal’s backstory is such a clear standout of this season, in its “Call Me By Your Name”-esque approach to a forbidden romance. It’s sensational.

The soundtrack and score of “Euphoria” is something that makes the show so itself. Scored by Labrinth, it contributes to the atmosphere perfectly. Whether it be an 80s top 10 hit, a depressing Lana Del Rey song rolling over the end credits or a hyper-pop anthem for Lexi to ride her bike to Fezco to, it’s just so fitting.

The performances this season are amazing and intense. Of course, Zendaya delivers. Her performance in episode 5 is probably her best. She better get that Emmy. Sweeney’s performance of a spiraling, lost Cassie is electric, even in the cringiest of moments. 

The performances this season feel more enhanced and drawn-out this time around, adding to the intensity of this season’s theme.

Even though season two might feel unfinished or splotchy in terms of storyline and pacing, it does the job. It’s definitely not as good or developed as its first season, but it’s still fun, enticing and quite the trip. It’s an all-around decent sequel to the rightfully acclaimed series and leaves fans in anticipation again waiting for its already confirmed third season.

“Euphoria’s” second season is available to stream on HBO Max.

Jackson Parks – Editor-in-Chief

This will be Jackson Parks’ second year on ECHO staff, but he made several contributions while taking journalism class his sophomore year. He served as Junior Editor his first year on staff.

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