WHY THE CRITICS ARE CALLING EUPHORIA 2-PART SPECIAL ” A BEAMING RAY OF LIGHT” IN A DARK TIME
If you’re looking for a moment of stillness in all the noise, the filming constraints of the pandemic have gifted Euphoria fans two hours of extraordinarily intimate TV gold. Euphoria’s two-part special is now first on Showmax, express from the US. It’s as far removed from the frenetic pace of Season 1 as you can get… and the critics are raving about it.
Last year, Zendaya (The Greatest Showman, Spider-Man) became the youngest ever best actress Emmy winner for her performance as 17-year-old addict Rue, who returned home from rehab and fell hard for the new girl in town, Jules (played by trans superstar Hunter Schafer). Zendaya also scooped the 2019 People’s Choice Award for Favorite Drama TV Star, a 2020 Black Reel Award and a 2019 Satellite Award for the role, while the series won 2020 Emmys for Original Music and Lyrics for All For Us by Labrinth, as well as Contemporary Makeup (Non-Prosthetic).
The HBO drama series put a surprise in our Christmas stockings at the end of last year with Trouble Don’t Last Always, the first episode of a two-part special bridging the COVID-19-enforced gap as we wait for Season 2. The first episode picks up directly after the Season 1 finale, focusing on Rue facing Christmas alone in the aftermath of the train station. Though Jules features briefly, the episode is a pensive, slice-of-life two-hander that sees Rue and her sponsor Ali (fellow Season 1 star Colman Domingo) pick apart life, loss and addiction over Christmas Eve pancakes in a diner.
Part 2, titled F*ck Anyone Who’s Not a Sea Blob, has just arrived, express from the US; here’s where we finally get Jules’ side of the story and catch up with her in a painfully honest therapy session. In addition to Hunter and Zendaya, Part 2 features Critics Choice nominee Lauren Weedman (Tales from the Loop, Arrested Development) as Jules’ therapist, and John Ales (Bosch, Sneaky Pete) as her dad, as well as a couple of not-so-welcome guests. Series creator Sam Levinson says they had prepped the entire Season 2 before the pandemic shut down production just three days before they were due to start shooting. “My instinct immediately was, ‘What can we do in the meantime? What’s a way to do more contained pieces that allow us to continue the emotional evolution of these characters?’”
Part 1 of his answer to that question drew a 96% thumbs-up from critics on Rotten Tomatoes. “The first season of Euphoria moved at a breakneck pace… Not so with this special; this long, enveloping conversation is covered with skill and panache, yes, but with unending patience, stillness, comfort in the discomfort,” says Collider. “An unorthodox, gripping, reflective, and supremely effective piece of television storytelling… and some of the best acting you’ll see on television this year.”
RogerEbert.com calls it “one of the best hours of TV in 2020… incredibly moving,” Indiewire asked, “Who knew “Euphoria” could offer such a beaming ray of light?”, and Decider has already tipped Zendaya for another Emmy nomination for the special episode. “Zendaya continues to demonstrate exactly why she so deserved the best actress Emmy,” echoes The Guardian, adding that, “As the older, wiser Ali, Colman Domingo is simply extraordinary” and calling the episode “frequently as funny as it is grim. Ultimately, its message is one of forgiveness, of others and of oneself, of empathy and understanding. It quietly calls for goodwill to all men, even whip-smart, heartbroken, navel-gazing teenagers.”
And Rue is indeed heartbroken. “Rue is in a very vulnerable place,” Zendaya says. “She’s trying her best to convince herself that she has something figured out… Rue does not have it figured out. Rue does not know what she’s doing. And I think the only person who can cut through the noise and truly understand her is Ali.”
“What’s special about Rue and Ali’s relationship,” says Sam, “is she can’t bullshit Ali, and not only can she not bullshit Ali but Ali doesn’t judge her.”
The result, Zendaya says, is that Rue is able to “slowly open up and kind of take these layers off, because really what is the point of that when someone can see right through to who you are?”
Hunter herself co-wrote and co-exec produced the second part alongside Sam, marking her debut in both roles.
“Jules feels the pressure of Rue’s sobriety resting on her,” says Hunter. “Jules is really worried that if she makes the wrong move with Rue, it could go straight back to relapsing. And that’s countered with the two of them being very in love.”
Sam explains that Rue is “constantly trying to find things outside of herself to ground her, to make her feel okay and that she’s connected to people, and I think she uses Jules for that, but therein lies the trap. It’ll always go south because you can’t place that burden on another individual.”
But as Jules herself puts it in the episode, “Rue was the first girl that didn’t just look at me. Like, she actually saw me… ‘The me’ that’s underneath a million layers of not me.” And, she reveals, “How could it be possible that Rue would love me as much as I loved her?”
The new instalment makes it clear just how much Jules really does love Rue, and how much pain her decision to run away has caused her. But it also starts getting to the heart of the problem, that for Jules, who’s found safety in fantasy and virtual romance, the one person who really loves her may be just… too real, too messy and, in very real terms, too easy to lose…
Decider called Part 2 “a truly gutting character study and a breath-taking performance from Hunter Schafer… This standalone episode should only be the beginning of content headlined by Schafer; she’s a star.”