'Euphoria': Your Guide to Zendaya's Shocking Teen Drama and All the Wildest Moments

Euphoria HBO

Creator Sam Levinson and the cast help break down what’s to come on the HBO series.

You may have seen Undressed, Gossip Girl, The O.C., Sex Education, or Elite, but you’ve never seen a teen drama like this. 

Euphoria, a new show from creator Sam Levinson and executive producer Drake and adapted from an Israeli series of the same name, is an ensemble drama described by HBO as following “a group of high-school students as they navigate a minefield of drugs, sex, identity, trauma, social media, love and friendship.” And that’s not even the start of it. Yes, there is explicit drug use and nudity -- and even a scene involving multiple shots of full frontal nudity as first reported by The Hollywood Reporter

Zendaya, of Disney and Marvel’s Spider-Man fame, leads a cast of rising stars including Jacob Elordi (The Kissing Booth), Algee Smith (The Hate U Give), Maude Apatow (Assassination Nation), Sydney Sweeney (Sharp Objects), Storm Reid (A Wrinkle in Time) as well as newcomers to acting, models Barbie Ferreira and Hunter Schafer. The cast brings to life Levinson’s interweaving storylines that see each character wander off on their own expected journey of exploration only to rejoin together after those paths take unexpected turns and result in interactions that none of them could have anticipated. 

Fans of the creator’s film, Assassination Nation, which depicted a town reduced to chaos and violence after a teenager starts hacking everyone’s private data, will appreciate the style and tone of the series that is thought-provoking, darkly funny and strangely beautiful all at the same time. “At its core, it's about the people that you come across, it's about when you open your heart [and] there's people that can change your life,” Levinson said of Euphoria. (For reference: Assassination Nation, which also stars Hari Nef and Suki Waterhouse, is now streaming on Hulu. And it is worth watching at some point while watching this series.)

Best described by Sweeney, who recently spoke with ET about her breakout year, Euphoria is “a real look at growing up and nothing is sugar-coated,” she said. “Parents are going to watch this and go, ‘Holy crap! This is not what my kids are doing!’ And then teenagers are going to watch this and go, ‘Oh yeah, that’s what we’re doing.’” 

In order to get ready for what’s to come, when the show premieres on Sunday, June 16, ET breaks down everything you need to know.

Jules (Hunter Schafer) and Rue (Zendaya) in a scene from Euphoria. - HBO

Wait, Who's Playing Who? 

With the show being a large ensemble, there are plenty of characters that pop in and out of the interweaving storylines. That said, there are five key characters to follow. 

Rue (Zendaya): At the center of this series, Rue is a drug-addled teen whose overdose sent her to rehab for the summer. Upon her return, for the start of a new school year, she quickly falls back into her old habits. Only this time, there’s a lot more at stake. Thanks to a magnetic attraction to the arrival of a new person in town, Rue finds herself opening up in unexpected ways. (She’s also the series’ most unreliable narrator.) 

Jules (Hunter Schafer): Having just moved into the area, Jules has to jump hurdles that come with being the “new girl” at school while navigating relationships with Rue, Kat and Nate. A sexual encounter with an unknown man also has unexpected consequences, when it’s revealed that these two strangers may have more in common than they realize. “I found it exciting to play a transfeminine person and be able to bring a lot of my experiences to Jules and fill out her experience,” Schafer said, adding that Jules and Rue “grow closer throughout the season.” 

Nate (Jacob Elordi): A ball of toxic masculinity, Nate has an unhealthy point of view on women -- particularly his on-again, off-again girlfriend, Maddy (Alexa Demie) -- and major anger management issues. As the show’s resident jock -- his often-shirtless body fits the part -- you think he’d take it on the field, but it manifests itself elsewhere instead. “I had to make myself a blank canvas to play the character because he's so different to who I am as a person,” Elordi said of the role. 

Kat (Barbie Ferreira): A body-conscious teen, Kat is just starting her own journey of exploring her sexuality. When she finally lets her inhibitions go, her newfound freedom proves to have unexpected limits. However, she is the kindest of the bunch, always a supporter friend to Kat, Cassie and Rue. 

Cassie (Sydney Sweeney): Rumored to have an explicit sexual past, her reputation catches up with her when she tries to get serious with Chris (Algee Smith), a fellow football player who is easily manipulated by Nate. She’s also the older sister of Rue’s former best friend, Lexi (Maude Apatow), but they barely interact with each other. 

Cassie (Sydney Sweeney) and Chris (Algee Smith) in a scene from Euphoria. - HBO

What Exactly Is Shocking About It? 

Well, almost all of it, depending on the viewer. As previously reported by multiple outlets -- and what ET can confirm by watching the first four episodes provided for review -- there are multiple scenes that will certainly have audiences talking. But some of the more controversial moments depict images of 9/11, statutory rape, non-consensual choking and violent sexual encounters, explicit drug use, underage porn, misogyny and toxic masculinity. But not everything is put out there without explanation or recourse.    

As for those notorious penises -- reportedly there are 30, but we didn't bother to fact check that count -- it’s not that there are so many in one shot, it’s the context in which they are depicted that may prove more problematic. During Rue’s introduction of Nate, she suggests there may be some deep-seeded homophobia when he’s said to make sure he always looks at other guys in the locker room in the eyes -- except when he doesn’t. 

Kat (Barbie Ferreira) and Maddy (Alexa Demie) in a scene from Euphoria. - HBO

So, Is It Any Good?

Honestly, yes. 

There’s a lot of sensationalism that will make audiences instantly react, and perhaps distract them from the show’s gritty depiction of teen life, in a post-9/11 world. As Sonia Saraiya for Vanity Fair puts it, “Euphoria wants to provoke. That’s what the cool kids do.” But it’s also beautiful: “Euphoria’s vision of teenage dissipation, even when it goes awry, is shockingly gorgeous, a color-saturated vision of California youth that picks up on deep purples, candy pinks, and flat, orangey haze.” TVLine gives less credit to the storyline, but agrees on esthetic. “Euphoria is admittedly better at establishing a distinctive mood and style than at telling a story,” Dave Nemetz writes. It's also darkly funny in ways that bring out the best in it. Quotable lines from some of the supporting players -- like “B**ch, this isn’t the '80s! You need to catch a d**k.” -- play out like R-Rated versions of jokes viewers might have heard in Heathers or Mean Girls.

Zendaya, it should be said, delivers a captivating performance that surely will launch her past the pitfalls of child actors straight into adult superstardom. “She hones Rue’s thousand-yard stare and the sporadic, heartbreaking cracks of light peeking through with such care that she’s often breathtaking,” Caroline Framke writes for Variety. It’s a presence unlike anything else on TV. 

The show will also likely make stars of the ensemble players. As Alan Sepinwall points out in Rolling Stone, “Schafer and Ferreira are superb covering relatively untrod ground. And as Cassie, a girl with an unwanted sexual reputation, Sydney Sweeney (Sharp Objects, Everything Sucks!) continues to establish herself as one of the best young actors working today.” Indeed, Sweeney is an unstoppable force, who’s already checked off a huge bucket list of A-list co-stars and whose buzz factor will only continue to rise when she appears in Once Upon a Time in Hollywood alongside Brad Pitt and Leonardo DiCaprio.    


Euphoria airs Sundays at 10 p.m. ET on HBO.

--Additional reporting by Katie Krause