Television

I’m the Same Generation as the Characters in And Just Like That. Why Would I Rather Watch Euphoria?

These high school kids feel everything. And when I watch Euphoria, I do too.

Zendaya and Storm Reid on Euphoria.
Zendaya and Storm Reid on Euphoria. Eddy Chen/HBO

When I read that Sex in the City was coming back as the revival And Just Like That, I was excited. Really excited. As a 51-year-old Gen X pop culture blogger who literally writes every day for and about 41- to 56-year-old women (aka Generation X), I thought: Finally! A television show targeted at middle aged women like me! Well, maybe not exactly like me—I mean, who could afford Carrie’s vast Manolo Blahnik designer shoe collection, Fendi bags, and Carolina Herrera-filled closet? But it would be relatable and reflective. I would get the characters, who must be dealing with things like women my age do. I couldn’t wait to see how the women had grown up. I was anxious to see how the characters had aged along with me, and discover the state of their relationships.

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Turning to HBO Max, I settled into the sofa with a big bowl of popcorn and a huge helping of hope—hope that I was about to see aspects of my life reflected back to me. I watched Carrie and girls appear on screen and grapple with “middle-aged” dilemmas. Searing salmon, putting out feelers for new female friends, navigating people’s pronouns, wondering how many cocktails were too many on a work night and trying to be a good mom. Throw in death and a Peloton and there you have it. Middle age! Like me! Yuck. I guess I don’t want my demographic reflected back to me after all. And just like that, I started watching Euphoria instead.

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Euphoria follows a group of high school students as they navigate love and friendships in a world of drugs, sex, trauma, and social media.” That is how HBO Max describes it. I would add this: It is a gut-wrenching and disturbing look into some of today’s teenagers exploding with emotions, oversized reactions, and rage fueled by addiction, endless self-awareness, and relentless self-reflection. Oversexed and overstimulated, they swing from ecstasy to existential crises moment to moment. A one-word text can move them to tears.

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I love every minute of it. I am totally engrossed in the show, even though I’m not the intended audience. Why do I choose to watch a TV show whose target demographic is decades younger, and ignore the one that’s meant for me? As a Gen X girl, I am mesmerized by Euphoria’s Gen Z drama. The characters’ behavior is so outrageous and emotional. These high school kids feel everything. And when I watch it, I do too—shock, envy, sympathy, empathy, disgust, hope, disbelief and understanding. I might even call it a sense of camaraderie. Despite the fact that no character reminds me of any friend I have ever known, and that in no way whatsoever did high school students visibly carry on like that in the ’80s, I find myself shaking my head knowingly. I get those girls’ emotions—.we just couldn’t show them back then. Talking about mental health struggles was hush hush. Questioning our identities out loud, waltzing through the hallways announcing we were back from rehab, having same-sex relationships, acknowledging we were sad or scared. We had those feelings! Society just didn’t allow them to be visible the way they are now.

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I know Euphoria is not a reality show. Every teen of my era didn’t live the luxurious lifestyle of Beverly Hills 90210, and every 20-something didn’t have a cool apartment like Rachel and Monica on Friends. (Most of us couldn’t afford to dress like Carrie or Charlotte in our 30s, either.) Yet, I think I see something of my high school years in the Euphoria teens, even though everything seems so much heavier for them. The stakes are so much higher.

Is watching Euphoria an escape from my middle-aged life? Maybe. I can’t decide if Rue and Jules and their crew make me feel better about my generation—that we survived without being able to express ourselves so much—or worse, because we had to hide so much. We were resilient Gen X girls back then, and we’re strong Gen X women now. The characters remind me that I survived trying times of teenage years, and I will surely navigate middle age, too.

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Loving Euphoria and dropping And Just Like That does make me feel a little guilty. Shouldn’t I support a show about middle-aged women, for middle-aged women, after years of complaining there were so few shows about middle-aged women? I want to, I really do. But lately, I just want to be entertained. Is Euphoria more entertaining than watching a program about people my age? You bet it is.

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Maybe I love the show because I feel some kind of kinship with the Euphoria girls—more than I do with my contemporaries on And Just Like That. I think that’s a big reason why I’m drawn to it. Despite growing up in such different decades, there’s something in the underbelly of some of the characters and storylines that I relate to. Cassie and Maddy crushing on the same cute guy; Lexi and Rue’s friendship drifting in and out; parties with plenty of alcohol, trashed houses, and a never-ending line for the only bathroom. (And wait … aren’t they playing “Right Down the Line?” I used to skate to that song at the roller rink in the late ’70s!) I am rooting for these girls. I didn’t readily recognize them without the shoulder pads and leg warmers, but beneath their surface, I see myself. As teens, aren’t most of us, whatever the decade, searching for identity and love, questioning friendships and feelings on Friday nights, dealing with heartbreak, and secretly longing to be understood? Whether we show it or not?

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As I write this, I’m reminded how much time has passed since high school, though I remember every moment like it was yesterday. I spent much of my sophomore year hanging out at my good friend BH’s house, where parents were never around. (I literally don’t think they even lived there.) We had awesome times there, though not nearly as wild as the Euphoria gang’s. This week, I woke up to the news that he died, at 50. And a line from Euphoria’s current season sparked something in my head. “What’s a bigger feeling than love?” Elliot asks Rue. “Loss,” Rue replies. Love and loss bridge the generational divide. Rue’s answer this way reminds me how these two emotions can take hold of anyone, at any age. She just seems wise beyond her years to be able to articulate that. For many of us, it takes more time. I want to shout at these characters to hang in there. They are stronger than they think. Circumstances will change, and their tumultuous times will make them more resilient in adulthood. But love and loss? Those never go away.

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