Cast: Zendaya (“Spider-Man: Homecoming,” “The Greatest Showman”), Jacob Elordi (“The Kissing Booth”), Alexa Demie (“Ray Donovan”), Algee Smith (“The New Edition Story”), Maude Apatow (“Girls”), Eric Dane (“The Last Ship”) and newcomer Hunter Schaefer
Airs: The eight-episode first season premieres on HBO at 8 p.m. Sunday.
The premise: Rue Bennett’s (Zendaya) life is a mess, but she’s not sure how it got that way. The 17-year-old drug addict is fresh from rehab but immediately relapses. She’s struggling to make sense of life when she meets Jules Vaughn (Hunter Schafer), who recently moved to town. They’re kindred spirits, both searching for a sense of belonging.
Rapper Drake is an executive producer on the series, which was created and written by Sam Levinson (“The Wizard of Lies”).
Highs: Rue Bennett is one of the most complex teen characters I’ve seen on television. She would appear to have it all but can’t seem to get her thoughts straight. She has loving parents, a younger sister who adores her and charisma to spare. Rue is intelligent, attractive and a natural storyteller, and people are drawn to her. But she seems to push people away, without knowing why.
Rue has depression and likely several undiagnosed mental disorders. She knows something’s wrong and turns to drugs because she can’t articulate how her mind works or figure out how to ask for help. Rue is a walking contradiction, one moment funny and thoughtful, and the next threatening her mom with a broken piece of mirror before dropping to the floor in tears.
This might sound like an incredibly unlikable character, and she’d be hard to handle if she were your own daughter or a student in your classroom. But Rue’s character is fascinating to watch. Bringing this complex teen to life is Zendaya, who shows acting skill well beyond her years.
You can’t help but root for Rue. That’s a testament to Zendaya’s incredible performance.
Rue isn’t the only one with problems. The characters in “Euphoria” face anxiety, societal pressure, drugs and alcohol, body shaming, online bullying, mass shootings, promiscuity and pressure from every angle.
Because this is an HBO series, it provides a no-holds-barred look at what it’s like to be a teenager today. It has some humor and sincere moments of friendship, but viewers won’t mistake it for a comedy. “Euphoria” has a story to tell, and its simple frankness packs a punch. Prepare for brutal candor with a heavy dose of empathy.
Lows: Remember all the crazy things you did as a teen? For teens today, if this show is any indication, you can multiply the risk factor of your goofy shenanigans by 100. Every thing you’re worried about your teen doing? They’re likely doing it while it’s captured by a smartphone and promoted from some social media site you didn’t even know existed. Nothing will make you want to have a long talk with your offspring more than a gritty HBO series about teenagers.
Grade: (B+): This series is “Big Little Lies” with teens. “Euphoria” takes the teen drama genre — elevated by series such as “Riverdale” and “13 Reasons Why” — to an entirely new level.
Gazette TV critic Terry Terrones is a member of the Television Critics Association and the Broadcast Television Journalists Association. You can follow him on Twitter at @terryterrones.