There are a lot of reasons to love Euphoria: You can come for the LGBTQ+ representation and stay for the sheer number of female leads; show up for Zendaya’s endearing portrayal as Rue, stick around for the music; tune in for the make-up and fashion looks, but really tune in for the debauchery. Euphoria is lovable because Euphoria isn’t just one show, but a lot of them. It’s a Russian doll in 60-minute, televised form, struggling to remain cohesive as it switches between them all.
After last Sunday’s episode—the third of Season Two—Twitter user @blairsmani astutely pointed out that the bathroom scene in which Rue, Lexi, Cassie, Maddy, and Kat talk to each other felt like a crossover episode. But, at the same time, we’re supposed to believe that these girls are friends! Good enough friends to be a part of each other’s lives so that when they simply have a conversation, it doesn’t feel like a mash-up of completely different shows. Euphoria’s attempt to give us a lot means that well-deserving characters are given next to nothing. We—resident Euphoria experts Madeline Ducharme and Nadira Goffe—broke down the many different shows of Euphoria and decided which ones the show should keep and which ones it should abandon. For added measure (and easy differentiation), we’ve dubbed each one of these sub-shows appropriate monikers.
It’s Always Sunny in Psychedelia (aka The Rue Show)
Logline: The brilliant but broken beating heart of Euphoria is Rue. Played with a stunning mix of grace and tenacity by Zendaya, she is the teenage drug addict with no intentions of staying clean, even when it means potentially losing everything. From a budding love triangle with Jules (Hunter Schafer) and Elliot (Dominic Fike), to a strained relationship with her family and sponsor, Ali (the incredible Colman Domingo), most of the cast orbits around Zendaya’s Emmy-award winning character.
Madeline’s Verdict: There is no Euphoria without Rue. Though her plot can sometimes spin off into aggravating directions, Zendaya’s performance keeps Euphoria’s bonkers world grounded.
Nadira’s Verdict: Zendaya’s portrayal as Rue is incredibly endearing and frustrating and yet so comically aware, it’s impossible not to like Rue. She’s the character the show is most dedicated to, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.
10 Things I Love (and Hate) About Rue (aka The Jules Show)
Logline: In less capable hands, the character of Jules might have been nothing but a manic pixie trans dream girl. In Hunter Schafer’s hands, the character is a revelation. Jules started out in the show as a victim—of Nate’s anonymous cruelty and Cal’s twisted sexuality—but in her standalone episode (co-written by Schafer herself) and this season so far, she’s blossomed into a steadfast friend, a devoted girlfriend, and an expert in delightful gender fuckery. A sorta-inscrutable love triangle between Jules, Rue, and drug-loving newcomer Elliot (Dominic Fike) rounds out her arc this season.
Madeline’s Verdict: Hunter Schafer’s performance depicts Jules’ traumatized darkness alongside a dreamy, energized portrait of a high schooler newly in love, invigorated by the friends around her. Euphoria’s at its best when it confronts how Rue’s addiction impacts the people who love her head-on; Jules’ “show” is a clarifying and humane approach to that sometimes punishingly told story.
Nadira’s Verdict: Ugh, Jules! I love Jules (and Hunter), but I love who Jules is without Rue even more—a version of Jules we rarely see. I don’t think Jules is evenly written, sometimes she’s complex and intriguing and sometimes she, as Elliot said in the recent episode, “sounds like she’s navigating a Twitter thread” (which likely isn’t unrealistic for a teenage trans girl, but isn’t the show’s writing at its strongest). With that being said, Jules is one of the undeniably best parts about Euphoria; HBO should make sure to renew The Jules Show at all costs.
Menace to Sobriety (aka The Fezco Show)
Logline: Euphoria Season 2 started out with Fezco’s backstory, something Euphoria fans had long been hoping for. Fez (Angus Cloud) quickly became one of the show’s fan-favorite characters as the resident drug dealer with a heart of gold, who would do anything for his chosen family (comprising Rue and Ashtray, his “adopted” younger brother). Fez is getting more screen time this season as not just Rue’s friend and dealer, but as a love interest for Lexi, an established enemy to Nate, and maybe even more than that to come.
Madeline’s Verdict: Occasionally this HBO show becomes a QAnon-follower’s wet dream of what depraved Hollywood is like. Most often, that happens during The Fezco Show. His drug-dealing exploits often feature brutal violence, forced strippings of the unlucky folks who happen to tag along with him on a major deal, and even threats of child sex trafficking. In the season’s most recent episode, an older female drug dealer, whom Fez has to encounter from time to time, threatened to “sell Rue to some really sick people.” While I find most of his plot outrageous, I can’t deny that his “show” keeps the stakes of Euphoria high.
Nadira’s Verdict: I came to Euphoria for Zendaya and stayed for Fez, and that’s the truth. I’m a sucker for a bad boy with a good heart (I should unpack that, I know), and so, it seems, are many other Euphoria fans (just check the replies to this tweet). I love the juxtaposition between who he is and the optics of what he does. Angus Cloud always delivers my favorite one-liners and can build and break my heart just as easily as Rue can. To me, there’s no Euphoria without Fez—or at least no Euphoria that’s worth watching.
The Bad Bitch Baby-Sitter’s Club (aka The Maddy Show)
Logline: Euphoria Season 1 could have easily been called The Maddy Show. Though Rue was the most notable character, it was Maddy (Alexa Demie) that dominated Euphoria stan Twitter. Maddy’s previous arc—of being a bad bitch that has decided to give up on shitty men, namely her boyfriend Nate (Jacob Elordi)—was an inspiration of confidence to the show’s audience. But in Season 2, Maddy’s storyline is … well, it’s unclear. We have rarely seen her thus far, and when we do, she’s babysitting for a wealthy couple (and iconically trying on the wife’s luxury clothing). But other than that, she hasn’t been given much yet to do. She mainly exists as tension for Nate and Cassie (Sydney Sweeney)’s situationship (more on that later), a roadblock more than a character in her own right.
Madeline’s Verdict: Maddy’s arc in the first season, which saw her escaping physical abuse and embracing all her girlfriends at their winter formal, offered a hopeful spark in an otherwise dismal outlook on today’s youth. To see her immediately fall back into the same cycle pining for Nate, except this time unknowingly in competition for his affection with her best friend, utterly depresses me. If she doesn’t get a new plot stat, I don’t see a future for her on Euphoria, even in spite of immortal queen Alexa Demie’s fantastic comedic timing.
Nadira’s Verdict: Free my girl Maddy from the plot peril she’s in! I love Maddy, and I want more of her and from her (and I want it to have nothing to do with Nate.) To me, Maddy was most interesting while she was asserting her independence and as a counter-personality to the friend(?) group of Cassie, Kat, Lexi, Jules, and Rue. I don’t think she has to always be the model of perfection and confidence, but I do want her character to want something or have some motivation. #JusticeForTheMaddyShow, which is on the brink of cancellation right now.
The Blonde and the Restless (aka The Cassie Show)
Logline: Coming off of her Season 1 breakup and abortion, All-American Cassie Howard is still blonde, beautiful, and a bit broken. She stumbles into an utterly ill-advised relationship with the ever-terrifying Nate, in spite of his fraught past with her best friend Maddy. With an alarm set to four a.m. every morning, a three-hour beauty routine before school, and few ambitions in life beyond catching her secret lover’s eye in the hallway, Cassie seems poised for some sort of interpersonal disaster and nervous breakdown this season.
Madeline’s Verdict: I’ve been a Sydney Sweeney-appreciator since her lovely turn as the bombastically irritating theater queen bee in Everything Sucks! However, this whole arc around Nate and Maddy is grating and predictable. Of course this is going to blow up in her face! Of course it’ll leave her devastated! I’m bored, and just think The Cassie Show isn’t the best showcase for Sweeney’s talent.
Nadira’s Verdict: Oh, Cassie. Though I think Sydney Sweeney is great, I’m not here for Cassie’s arc this season! Not only is it one-note—”he loves me, he loves me not”— it seems to also be, on some level, exploitative of Sydney Sweeney. Even though Sweeney has said she’s never felt uncomfortable on set, her character is nude far more often than other female cast members, even after Sweeney had Levinson cut some topless scenes out. I think Cassie is more capable of making at least one smart decision than the show is letting on. I find myself laughing at her more and more, and I don’t know if that’s what the show wants me to do. As far as Cassie goes, the longer she’s focused on Nate, the less I’m interested in seeing The Cassie Show stick around.
I Don’t Want No [Scrubs] (aka Narcs and Recreation aka The Nate Show)
Logline: Have you ever wondered what unrelenting empathy for a sociopathic character might look like? Look no further than Nate. Let us count the ways he’s remained a malignant presence on this show: continued abuse of all the girls he dates; the psychological warfare of catfishing Jules via Grindr to gather nude photos of her as child pornography collaterol to protect his father; and the assault and subsequent blackmailing of one of Maddy’ former hookups, which forced him to confess to a rape and physical abuse he never committed. And yet he remains one of Euphoria’s focal points, with his interiority and motivations explored far more often than that of other characters.
Madeline’s Verdict: I’m surprised that we’re still watching episodes of The Nate Show as much as we are. The seriousness of whether Nate will release the naked photos of Jules seems to vary from episode to episode, making his connection to the main cast tenuous at this point. Speaking personally, I also just can’t stomach watching him choke another girl during sex. I do not need any additional context for why he is the way that he is; let’s just end this sadistic rollercoaster.
Nadira’s Verdict: Nate, Nate, Nate. I do not need more Nate, and I do not need the show to try to make me feel bad for Nate. He’s a sociopath and abusive in every sense of the word. Too many of my gorgeous girls have been mystified by his powers, and I call b.s.! What’s there to like? He’s six-feet, five-inches of toxic masculinity. While I do appreciate his existence as a way to explore how young characters deal with toxic relationships and catfishing, I don’t think I need Euphoria to keep doing it with Nate at the center. The best thing this character has ever done was let his face be a target for Fez’s fist. Let villains be villains! The Nate Show can go.
I Love Lexi (aka The Lexi Show)
Logline: Lexi Howard (Maude Apatow) was one of the most overlooked characters in Euphoria Season 1. She was known simply as Cassie’s sister and Rue’s former best friend. Euphoria is finally shining a spotlight on Lexi in Season 2, giving her a lot to deal with: She’s starting a budding romance with Fezco and asserting her individuality, most recently by writing and staging her own play.
Madeline’s Verdict: In the most recent episode, we’re treated to a season highlight, courtesy of Lexi’s fantasy sequence in which her life is an actual TV series. While I’m finding the romantic arc between her and Fez both unbelievable and even a little dull, Maude Apatow really sparkles in the scenes about Lexi’s playwright pursuits. I do know the romance is upsetting the Lexi-Rue shippers, many of whom are still churning out #Rexi fancams on Twitter. I stand with them, but I’m excited to see her plot develop over this first true season of The Lexi Show.
Nadira’s Verdict: If there’s two things that are true about me, it’s that I love Lexi Howard and I love a good theater kid origin story. I, too, was an original Lexi-Rue shipper, but upon further reflection, I realized that relationship wasn’t for the best. I want Lexi to be happy and that would not be in a relationship with Rue. On the other hand, I also love Fez, and I love the derpy soft side Lexi brings out in him. “Damn Lexi, you fuckin’ fearless” is, to me, one of the best lines of the entire show’s run thus far. I’m pro-Fexi and pro-Lexi’s emergence as a theater icon! Give me all the Lexi all the time.
Not So Insecure (aka The Kat Show)
Logline: Kat (Barbie Ferreira) is another one of Euphoria’s truly iconic girls. Kat is the show’s biggest advocate for loving yourself and a rare example of a show intimately exploring a young woman’s sexuality. She was featured heavily in Season 1, coming to terms with her sexual prowess as she went from shutting down an unsolicited underage sex tape to securing her bag as a webcam artist. In that emergence of her existence as a sexual being, she also found love with the sweet and doting Ethan. But so far this season, Kat hasn’t had much time to develop. We’re teased with glimpses of her struggling with her identity and her relationship, but that’s all they are: teases. Perhaps they are teases for a fulfilling Season 2 of The Kat Show to come, but we’re not holding our breath yet.
Madeline’s Verdict: One of the biggest disappointments of Euphoria’s return is the lack of Kat. The few snippets we’ve seen of her mostly depict a teenage girl bored by her dull albeit affectionate high school boyfriend. I hate to say this but when compared with homicidal child drug dealers, her plot just isn’t exciting enough to warrant her continued inclusion in this scattered show.
Nadira’s Verdict: Kat exists as the show’s, and my own, body-positive, sex-positive icon—she gives me more confidence than any of the other female characters. I think, while the show is better for Lexi and Maddy, it needs Kat. Quite frankly, it’s been very disappointing to see the lack of screen time she’s gotten so far, especially since when she does have well thought out screen time it’s stellar, like the recent influencer scene which I loved. I want more Kat! Kat forever.
Three’s Company (aka The Elliot Show)
Logline: Musician Dominic Fike is the newest addition to the Euphoria main cast. He (and his face tats) stars as Elliot, a new, sexually ambiguous friend of Rue’s that enables her continued drug use. Though Jules doesn’t know about how high they’re getting after school together, she’s suspicious of Rue’s new friend and insecure about how Elliot might threaten their recently rekindled relationship.
Madeline’s Verdict: I love when Euphoria leans into secret-keeping and even some dramatic irony. There are multiple layers of fraught feelings and clandestine actions in the Rue-Jules-Elliot triad: Jules doesn’t know about the drug usage; Rue doesn’t know about Jules and Elliot getting a little cozy near the end of episode three, Elliot doesn’t know about the root of Jules renouncement of male romantic partners. It’s both a lot of fun and clearly a powder keg that’s about to erupt. Let’s keep this dynamic going. Could they be Euphoria’s first throuple?
Nadira’s Verdict: I think Elliot is fun! I like him as a buffer between Rue and Jules. He says what we all think and asks what we all wonder about them; he’s a good tool to see how they exist when the other is not around. I’m excited to see how this love triangle plays out and to find out more about Elliot’s character. And I agree, dramatic irony is my favorite literary device. Also, playing the guitar in a dimly lit attic bedroom is hot. Also, I just love mess. Elliot Show, you can stay.
Cal(l) Me By Your Name (aka The Cal Show)
Logline: There’s very little to love—or even like–about Nate’s dad Cal (Eric Dane) on Euphoria. This violent, overbearing, closeted father makes award-winning chili and disturbing, non-consensually filmed sex tapes, including one that features (the very much underage) Jules. Though Jules claimed to be 22 in their Season 1 encounter, Cal’s statutory rape tape lives on to haunt him, Nate, and Jules in the first few episodes of this season. At the top of episode three, Levinson offers an attempt at an explanation for Cal’s outright predatory behavior in the form of a queer love story, which ends with a teenage Cal’s dreams of living openly as a gay adult quashed when his high school girlfriend (Nate’s mother) gets pregnant.
Madeline’s Verdict: If I could separate young Cal’s gorgeous, tragic love story from the terrifying Cal we see intimidating his son, his fuck buddies, and the entirety of East Highland, I’d say that this plot point could stick around, if only because it’s a brief respite from Rue’s increasingly alarming shenanigans. But I obviously cannot, and I’m not ready to accept the harm Cal has wrecked on this suburb just because he didn’t use protection. Both Cals have got to go.
Nadira’s Verdict: This tweet from @amandabb_ puts it best:
I agree, @amandabb. I agree. I’m all for LGBTQ+ coming-of-age arcs, and this one, as we found out in last Sunday’s episode, is actually quite raw and beautiful. But that touching vulnerability is dispensed in an attempt to humanize the most villainous character in the show, and that I can’t get behind. We could have used that time to focus more on Maddy or Kat. Cal Show, canceled.
(No One Wins When the) Family Feuds (aka The Gia and Leslie Show)
Logline: One of the most harrowing moments of Season 1 saw Rue’s younger sister, the 13-year-old Gia (Storm Reid), discover Rue’s unconscious body post-overdose. Rue’s mother Leslie (Nika King) is recently widowed, and often unheeding of Rue’s continued drug use. Given how underwritten their roles are, both of the characters function best as a stand-in for us viewers, the horrified witnesses to Rue’s dangerous spirals.
Madeline’s Verdict: It’s a shame that Gia and Leslie don’t get to function as fully-fleshed out people in Euphoria the way that a character like Jules does. Though Storm Reid has a sobbing face for the ages, and Nika King brings a tremendous warmth to her performance, the current state of their show is so lacking in details about their lives beyond Rue’s addiction. It’s really hard to stay invested.
Nadira’s Verdict: Honestly, one of the biggest disservices the show is handing out so far is to Rue’s family. While Rue’s actions toward them seem very realistic, and Gia gets a little screen time in response, Leslie is mostly absent, and when she is there, she’s either oblivious or lying to herself about her daughter’s sobriety. For me, how Rue’s addiction affects the people around her is much more interesting than the addiction itself, and I wish Euphoria agreed. So The Gia and Leslie Show can stay, but it needs to be a lot better.
Big Mouth (aka The Faye Show)
Logline: Nobody knows. Lips?
Madeline’s Verdict: Prior to the revelation that the actress who plays Faye, Chloe Cherry, was in a pornographic Euphoria parody (seriously), I would’ve said that we don’t need The Faye Show. However, her performance—and the meta-commentary of her moving from Porn-phoria to Euphoria—is a little brilliant. As long as she’s still making us laugh, I’m happy to have her around.
Nadira’s Verdict: Why is she here? Does anyone know? I don’t need her as comic relief when so many of the other characters we should be focusing on are already so funny! Faye can go as she came: for seemingly no reason at all.
Madeline: Euphoria is many things: an erotic thriller, a rager film a la Spring Breakers, a heartfelt queer indie romance, a harrowing afterschool special on opiates. In spite of its terrific, mood-morphing score from Labrinth, the show still struggles to balance its by our count 12 different narratives and their respective tonal shifts. My final tally says that half (50%!) of the current shows within Euphoria should go. I will say, though, that a few of these plot points could be better developed and more worthy of a spot in the show (Gia/Leslie, Kat, Maddy) if a few were abandoned entirely (Cal, Nate)—particularly the ones that only vaguely work their way back to the heart and soul of the show, Zendaya’s unforgettable Rue. Let’s cut out the fat and the bits that are just fancam fodder, Levinson, and really focus on what makes Euphoria special.
Nadira: As a final tally, Euphoria is clocking in for me at an 8/12, which is 67% … not a great grade. And this is unbalanced because I don’t know if you could call Gia and Leslie’s story a full storyline, and if I could downvote how dedicated the show is to telling me more about Nate and Cal twice? I would. But despite it all, I love the show because, as I mentioned, I love mess. But this mess could be better! Euphoria works best when it does what no other show is doing: creating characters who are Instagram influencer-worthy without judgement; portraying a deep shedding of teenage insecurity; and pondering gender expression, identity, sexuality, and life/death in original ways. To largely ignore the characters who do this, such as Maddy and Kat, is a disappointing waste, especially when that time is spent trying to excuse the inexcusable commonality of toxic masculinity (and some other very predatory crimes).