The trailer for HBO‘s new teen drama Euphoria is purposefully ambiguous. We’re introduced to several high school characters, including Rue (Zendaya), who are seemingly using drugs as a form of escapism. And because of that, what you watch plays out like a neon fever dream. You’re never really sure if what you’re watching is reality or some kind of synthetic high. The only thing you can be certain of is that these teens’ problems will come crashing down the second sobriety hits.
The word crash in that last sentence is important, because nothing about Euphoria is soft. It’s unlike any adolescent soap opera you’ve ever seen: raw, real, and, at times, very hard to watch. Think Gossip Girl with the volume turned way up. In the pilot episode we learn more specifics about the show’s keys players: There’s Rue, a 17-year-old addict returning from rehab with no intentions of staying sober; Jules (Hunter Schafer), the new girl who shakes things up at the year’s first big house party; Nate (Jacob Elordi), a chiseled jock with anger issues; McKay (Algee Smith), another jock who isn’t as misogynistic as his friends; and Cassie (Sydney Sweeney), whose nude selfies have become fodder for her gross male peers.
Each one of these characters is dealing with a major issue—be it anger, addiction, or sexuality—and they’re given the space to explore it. Fully. Nothing is diluted or sugar-coated, which is what drew several of Euphoria‘s actors to the project in the first place.
“I was blown away by how real it was, true it was, and how timely it was,” Smith tells Glamour. “My character goes on an emotional roller coaster. He’s trying to figure out himself and his masculinity, his vulnerability, how to be comfortable with that, and how to also deal with a lot of complexities going on in his life.”
Schafer says Euphoria‘s heavy true-to-life material made the cast get familiar with one another quickly. “I feel like you’re bonded in a way that a lot of other casts may not be right off the bat,” she says. “It kind of puts your friendships in hyper-speed working in an environment like this where you have to be real with each other and vulnerable on set together.”
The show’s intimate scenes were so vulnerable, in fact, that HBO hired a sex coordinator to make sure the actors felt secure every step of the way.