Too young to remember 9/11, they had relatively peaceful childhoods that have given way to existential struggles on both political and environmental fronts. Adults haven’t been much help. We haven’t meaningfully addressed the sources of their stress—like school shootings—but we have capitalized on it with moody Burger King commercials and anhedonic hitmakers from Billie Eilish to Lil Uzi Vert.
Teen TV these days can be dark too. Riverdale and Chilling Adventures of Sabrina are Archie Comics twisted by murder, organized crime and the occult. In an apt metaphor for kids fighting a generational war, Marvel’s Runaways battle their own villainous parents. Netflix’s controversial 13 Reasons Why helped make teen suicide a YA talking point. But Euphoria, an extremely TV-MA series that premieres June 16 on HBO, may be the first teen drama to fully exploit the Xanax- numbed aesthetic that defines Gen Z in the popular consciousness.
Its creator, writer and most frequent director is Sam Levinson, the filmmaker behind last year’s indie Assassination Nation, a tale of teen girls, social media and revenge. Similar elements suffuse the morose Euphoria, which stars actor singer-author-activist Zendaya as 17-year-old drug addict Rue Bennett. Fresh out of rehab, she has no intention of staying clean; years of depression have convinced her that chemically induced oblivion is her best-case scenario.