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A Check-in With the Adults of ‘Euphoria’

The kids are clearly not all right. Will a grown-up ever notice?

HBO Max/Ringer illustration

It would be an understatement to say that the kids of Euphoria are not all right. Whichever suit over at D.A.R.E. said that Sam Levinson’s HBO series glamorizes drugs may have seen a few gauzy stills of teens smeared in glitter, or Jules floating around in her Romeo + Juliet costume, but they surely hadn’t witnessed Zendaya playing out the anguish of Rue’s opiate withdrawal in last Sunday’s episode, tearing a house to shreds while her loved ones trembled in fear nearby. Surely, they hadn’t seen the camera linger on a bottle of morphine just long enough to make it look like a weapon.

Euphoria doesn’t glamorize drugs, and it certainly doesn’t glamorize being a teenager … or being in love … or having a best friend … or being naked … or living in Southern California … or any of the things that other shows for teenagers might normally glamorize. In one of HBO’s behind-the-scenes packages, Euphoria’s cinematographer Marcell Rév says that whereas Season 1 had “a very present feel to it,” the goal of Season 2 was to “feel like some sort of memory of high school.” Which brings me to the question I ask each time I watch a new episode of Euphoria: Is this show for teenagers?

I know that teenagers watch Euphoria, because I see their crystal-studded eyelids on TikTok, because HBO’s streaming service is actually thriving, and because no one makes funnier memes of Cassie sobbing in a high school bathroom than a group of tech-savvy people who may have also recently sobbed in a high school bathroom (or, more likely given the state of the American school system, sobbed about high school in a home bathroom). But between Euphoria’s most pivotal music cues (Steely Dan! Sinead O’Connor! A lot of Gerry Rafferty!), the reflective themes of Season 2 that are pulled largely in part from 37-year-old Levinson’s own adolescence, and the tagline of “the following is intended for mature audiences only” that opens each episode, it seems that Euphoria is yet another welcome addition to the ATFA oeuvre: shows About Teens, for Adults.

If so, one might naturally assume that the adults in Euphoria would be our intended audience surrogates, our inroads to understanding these teens’ outlandish behavior. But, nah. The adults of Euphoria are often wildin’ more than its kids, whether that means misusing substances, taking their dicks out when they really shouldn’t, or just ignoring obvious, glaring problems like drunk or high youth biking around town. Inside the stylized, pulsing, dare I say cinematic borders of Euphoria, Levinson has built a world so insular and so specific to his vision that Euphoria is almost more akin to a fantasy series.

In the mythical world of Euphoria, a teenager can bike anywhere they want without ever needing a ride from a parent, there’s no homework, and there’s no principal noticing that the school’s HBIC arrived with nothing more than a thimble-sized purse for first period. In Euphoria, California, a teenager can spend their afternoons being strip-searched at a drug dealer’s house, urinating in the middle of the street, or executing high-level blackmail schemes, then sprint back home through a town made up exclusively of alleyways and, I think, orchards … and still show up to school on time the next morning without a single adult noticing a thing.

Most of the character development for Euphoria’s central teens has been achieved through Rue-narrated flashbacks about parents and the many ways in which they’ve helped and harmed their children. But in present-day Euphoria, the adults in these teens’ lives have been reduced to specters who float across the screen to give the occasional nag or sideways glance over a comically sized wine glass. Is that an intentional choice to show these grown-ups with all the flaws that an adult may look back upon their parents and recognize? Or would having a single caring, attentive teacher character in this cast just really put a kibosh on the whole pockets-full-of-Xannie-bars-for-third-period thing Euphoria has going on?

I’m not asking to turn this fantasy into a reality where everyone suddenly gets grounded. I’m mostly just asking: Are the adults in this nameless Southern California suburb OK? And how are we supposed to interpret the very obvious fact that they are not? Typically, part of the allure for adults watching shows about teens is the rare opportunity to gloat: Thank goodness we’re not there anymore—thank goodness we made it through the horror show of adolescence. But Euphoria is here to tell you that adulthood is just a different kind of horror show. (Do you hear that, Euphoria teens? This is what you have to look forward to!) And while I love the chaos of the lawless, parentless, often pantsless world of Euphoria, Episode 5 marks the arrival of two pivotal moments: rock bottom of Rue’s recent relapse, and the subsequent moment when a few Euphoria parents finally become sentient beings. So let’s take this moment to check in on the adults of Euphoria and see if someone—literally, anyone—might be available to help these ailing children.

The Teachers at Euphoria High School

<Me tapping the Euphoria High School’s intercom … hey, is this thing on?>

If any adults are doing well in the world of Euphoria, it must be the teachers. From their complete absence in the series, we can only assume that they’re blissfully unaware that if their students aren’t coming to class toasted out of their minds, they’re waking up at 4 a.m. every day to scrub every single pore off their skin and still fail at getting the attention of a teenage Patrick Bateman—who, coincidentally, is also in their class!

Can they help? Theoretically, yes! Many teachers are known for caring about children and wanting to help them succeed. Unfortunately, we’ve encountered precisely ONE vice principal in the Euphoria High School halls during Season 2, and only a sliver of his head at that. Lexi asks vice principal Garcia if she can write and produce her own play as a sort of anti-Oklahoma, and he’s just like, “Sure, no need for me to read it first, hope it’s rated R for violence, please leave me alone.” So unless there’s an ill-advised Aria-Ezra plotline coming up—which, let’s face it, is the only feasible way a teacher gets wedged into this series—the most realistic answer here feels like: NO.

The Townspeople of Euphoria, California

Pretty much every rando we encounter out and about Euphoria, California, seems unpleasant, maybe excluding the couple that Maddy babysits for. But that couple also seems to exist in a different city altogether (L.A. proper and/or Dillon, Texas, if I had to guess), where there’s not a haze of hopelessness and despair isn’t constantly descending upon its citizens. Much like the teachers at Euphoria High School, the series’ townspeople seem uninterested in the evidence that the teens roaming their streets are in near-constant peril …

That is, until Rue begins causing car wrecks on every street corner, and destroying people’s homes like when Anne Hathaway accidentally becomes Godzilla in that movie Colossal. (Don’t tell me only I remember that movie.) Following Episode 5, perhaps we could anticipate some movement in this group …

Can they help? They could, but they won’t; that couple that Rue stole from have “reviewing the Ring doorbell footage as we speak” written all over them.

Euphoria P.D.

There are only a few adults in the world of Euphoria who make it easy to tell precisely what they’re doing. For the Euphoria Police Department, it’s a bad fucking job.

I’m sorry, Nate’s giant ass is out here beating people nearly to death, choking Maddy, blackmailing people with child pornography recorded by his father, opening Bud Lights with his teeth while he drives 100 miles per hour down a winding highway … and the first time the Euphoria Police Department perks up is when they hear Rue lightly dry-heaving on the street? It’s the most realistic adult behavior in the series, frankly.

Can they help? Considering that they recently got smoked AND outsmarted by a teen in active opiate withdrawal who literally had not had a snack all day—NO.

Fez’s Grandma

Fez’s grandma kicked off Season 2 with a flashback-bang. And at the time, she was doing great—played by Kathrine Narducci, Fez’s grandma was running her own business (which, yes, was drugs) and taking in kids in need of a guardian (and, yes, turning them into tiny tot drug dealers). But even if her guiding ethics were questionable, it was clear she cared about what happened to Fezco and Ashtray, and that practically makes her the June Cleaver of Euphoria. Which makes it all the more heartbreaking that, following an ambiguous collapse, we learn how Fez’s grandma became permanently incapacitated, putting him in the position of caretaker.

Can she help? She cannot. :(

Maddy and Kat’s Parents

In Season 1, both Kat and Maddy seemed to have parents who were, at the very least, invested in the well-being of their daughters. Maddy’s mother insisted on pressing charges against Nate when her daughter showed up with finger-shaped bruises around her neck, and Kat’s mom was fully supportive during her daughter’s sudden pivot to a fully latex wardrobe. Alas, they’re completely absent to this point in Season 2.

Can they help? They probably ARE helping their daughters at home, which could possibly explain why Maddy and Kat are not vomiting in hot tubs and have been mostly absent from our screens for the past few episodes.

Jules’s Dad

The entire contents of my high school duct-tape-wallet for more of Jules’s dad, who has perhaps the most comforting parental vibes in the entire series. Sure, he makes a few mistakes in Season 1, but for the most part, Jules’s dad respects his daughter as an individual, while also recognizing that she is a young person who needs help and guidance from time to time …

So needless to say, in Season 2, we have caught exactly one shadowy glimpse of him as he gently asks Jules if she’s sure getting back together with Rue is the best idea.

Can he help? Historically, Jules’s dad has taken an interest in Rue’s sobriety, and Jules’s relationship to it, so the fact that his daughter just took part in a disastrously hasty drug intervention would be a reasonable way to pull him into the story.

Cal

I’m not even sure if Cal is alive at this point. Euphoria’s parent with the most screen time and character development is proof that attempting to understand an adult in this world is actually the most traumatizing thing one can do. When Nate gets into trouble, Cal’s main parenting move is to threaten to get the police involved, even though he, like his son, stays sucking whiskey through a straw while he drives his big truck around town. He is a pot of toxic masculinity, spewing violent hate all over everyone, and it’s worse for those closest to him. After getting pistol-whipped by a child forces Cal to reflect on the sun-dappled ’90s love he ultimately pushed away, Cal’s natural reaction is to [checks notes] blame his sons for trapping him with the close-mindedness that he poisoned them with from birth. Fun!

Can he help? What’s the opposite of help? That’s generally what Cal can offer. On his way out the door, while standing in a puddle of his own vindictive foyer urine, Cal tells Nate that he is his greatest regret in life. It’s not possible for Nate to get worse, is it? IS IT???

Suze

Listen, Cassie and Lexi’s mom is not a perfect parent—she drinks too much, she’s a little too hands-off even when she knows something’s wrong, and she invites teenagers over to her house and tells them to keep the things they do there a secret from their own parents.

But Suze is a perfect character. Between the writing and Alanna Ubach’s performance, Suze is the only Euphoria parent who you may have encountered in the real world. She almost never says the right thing—she’s obsessed with Cassie’s beauty and ignorant to the walls Lexi has built around herself—but when pushed, she at least tries to do the right thing as a parent. Suze supports Cassie when she gets an abortion in Season 1, and she calls Rue’s mom over when Rue shows up at her house and starts darting into medicine cabinets. Of course, the first thing we ever heard Suze ask Rue in Season 1 was if she met any cute guys in rehab—but hey, no one gets it right 100 (or even 50) percent of the time, right?

Can she help? I genuinely believe she could! Y’know, if she could get past her own hang-ups with men to see that she has directly projected those hang-ups onto her eldest daughter, and now her eldest daughter could use some help beyond just getting the vomit out of her monokini.

Laurie the Drug Dealer

Is it possible to be both sinister and maternal at the same time? A long history of horror film would tell us yes, as would Euphoria’s newest adult, Laurie the drug dealer. She looks like a kindergarten teacher, stings like a monotone stand-up comic, and will absolutely fork over a suitcase full of drugs to a child and tell them to go nuts—while adding that if it’s the wrong kind of nuts, she’ll kill them.

On a personal level, Laurie is probably doing better than any other adult on-screen. Per her own admission, she’s never been angry, she’s the only person on the show with pets, and she’s girl-bossing her narcotics all over this town. But …

Can she help? Oh, absolutely not. Laurie is the adult with the greatest potential to harm in this series. At this point, she’s threatened to human-traffic Rue twice, and though she was surprisingly warm when Rue showed up at her door with a pocketful of tennis bracelets, her version of helping was to stick a needle in Rue’s arm and then lock all the exits.

Ali

“Let me know when you wanna stop trying to kill yourself and eat some pancakes.”

This Season 1 line was immediate proof that Ali would be one of the only adults in this series who offered any sense of hope to our most hope-averse character; and who stood as tangible evidence that life is long and it can always change.

Since taking him up on the pancake offer (but not so much the other part), Rue has given in to her NA sponsor’s attempts to guide her—she’s been honest with him, she’s listened to him, and he’s listened to her. But then Rue came into possession of a suitcase full of drugs and betrayed Ali’s trust in the most hurtful way possible. She weaponized his darkest confession against him—the one he used to show Rue that if she believed he was a good person worthy of love and forgiveness, then she could believe that about herself too. The moment Rue mockingly asked if Ali was going to hit her felt like an irreparable crack in their relationship, a break in Rue’s tether to the one person who intimately understands what she’s going through. And yet …

Can he help? Ali spent an hour-long special episode explaining to Rue in every way he knew how that no one is beyond forgiveness. So, at this point, Ali may be in a state of protecting himself and his sobriety from Rue’s destructive spiral. But I don’t think we should count him out of her life for good. After all, he’s not a guidance counselor—he’s “just a crackhead trying to do a little good on this Earth before [he dies].”

Rue’s Mom

If you were to ask Rue’s mom how she’s doing right now, I can only assume she’d hit you with a good old-fashioned, “I’ll tell ya how I’m doing—not well, bitch.” More than any other on-screen parent, Rue’s mom is trying. Of course, she needs to try more than any on-screen parent because Rue’s teenage mistakes aren’t merely traumatizing … they’re potentially lethal. Episode 5 is a painful look at what it takes to try and help a teen with an addiction, especially when you have another child to protect as well.

When Rue’s mom attempts to intervene in Episode 5, she can only watch on in horror as her daughter destroys her house, threatens her sister, screams at her best friends, threatens her own life, runs into oncoming traffic, and on and on. There’s a powerlessness to the adults in Euphoria that ultimately reminds us that the only adult in this series with the real power to escort these children into any sense of safety is Sam Levinson. Indeed, by episode’s end, after a more destructive night than most people could possibly imagine, Levinson seemingly returns Rue home to find out if this was really rock bottom, or if there’s longer still to go.

Can she help? I hope so. The heartbreakingly hopeful way that Nika King says “Rue?” as she hears the door open suggests that, no matter the toll, she will at least keep trying.