Euphoria’s overwrought second series loses sight of its own strengths

Rue (Zendaya) is standing facing the left of the image. She looks half asleep, but her face is illuminated by a golden light.

Euphoria never quite seems like a show that knows what it wants to be.

It wants to be shocking, certainly. Season 2 of the HBO drama maintains the same sort of arch confidence at the first. It’s near-constantly calling attention to itself, with a reflexive “look at me” quality that almost dares you to complain. It’s a show that, while not exactly courting controversy, wouldn’t be doing its job right if someone, somewhere, wasn’t petitioning against it – indeed, you get the sense that creator Sam Levinson would be disappointed if Euphoria debuted to rave reviews only.

But by now that’s priced into the equation; it’s difficult to be provocative when that’s exactly what people expect. The question going into Season 2 – which begins almost three years after the first season concluded, a long time for any viewer to stay with a show but particularly those from a teenage audience – is whether or not Euphoria has any tricks left after the shock value has worn off, or if it’s a series with a fundamentally very limited range.

Across the 7 episodes of Season 2, Euphoria never does quite manage to reinvent itself. Even worse, there’s a sense that it loses sight of its own strengths as well: it’s a show so preoccupied with one particular vision of its own existence that it never quite realises all the other things it does well, and all the other directions it could – and likely should – push itself in.

My review of Euphoria season 2 for National World.

Odd show, this. I went back to look at what I said when the first series was airing, almost exactly a million years ago in June 2019, and I had found it basically messy but quite interesting, even pretty good at times. (I did completely fall off it in the end though – took me months and months to watch the finale, and I only got around to the 2020 specials in the past few days – which maybe says a lot about the conclusion I reached in the end.)

For the most part though the second series didn’t quite hit the same notes that I liked about the first series, and really doubled down on the bits that I found least interesting. Bit of a shame, really, because it’s a show that very occasionally shows these flashes of brilliance, and I wish there was a little more of that to it.

You can find more of my writing about television here, and follow me on twitter @morelandwriter.