How "euphoria" helped me cope with the transition from the crowded streets of Bushwick to the silent suburbs of Connecticut.
American suburbia has one face: Jamie Lee Curtis screaming hysterically as she knocks on her neighbors’ doors, chased by Michael Myers. Yet, the most horrifying thing about the suburbs isn’t a masked serial killer who wants to kill you (although, since Halloween, the chances of that are never zero). It’s the perfectly manicured, dew-soaked lawn that sticks to the soles of AirForce 1’s on their way to tennis practice. The knee-high white picket fences that can’t keep soccer balls off the garden, but have done a pretty good job of holding the Williamsons, and the Sinclairs, and the Lees hostage for the past three generations. It’s the accent–drawled and lazy–that only comes out when Barbara gets another call from the principal’s office about her son picking a fight in gym class.
The suburbs can be a terrifying place. So why after watching Sam Levinson’s “euphoria” I’m ready to become another one of its victims?
I don’t remember much from the pilot, except that Rue was born a few days after 9/11, and that while she was at rehab everyone thought she was dead. I’ve watched this episode at least four times, and yet, it’s the images that stuck with me. Gia running to hug Rue for the first time since she OD. Fezco shaking hands with Nate Jacobs. Jules, as Fezco describes, “looking all Sailor Moon and shit,” riding her bicycle, soaking the last of summer.
The Southern California suburbs we see in the show are fictional, and could only be compared to the real suburbs in the same way that Disney’s Animal Kingdom could be compared to a jungle. According to Sam, that was the goal.
“We established early on that each scene ought to be an interpretation of reality or a representation of an emotional reality. I’m not interested in realism. I’m interested in emotional realism. A question that Marcell Rev, our cinematographer, and Michael Grasley, our production designer, talked a lot about is, ‘How can we create a world that reveals the hopes and wishes of the characters that exist within it?’” Sam Levinson told Vulture in an interview.
Aside from believing that the Calm app should release a recording of Sam Levinson saying “emotional realism” over and over again, this is a fucking cool concept. It made me think that while the show exaggerates the teenage experience, the relationship between the characters mirrors the ones I, and probably a lot of you, forged in high school. Awkward. Tight for no reason. Complex but thirsted for like a glass of water after a nightmare. “euphoria” might not accurately represent the life of teenagers across the country, but it does nail down their feelings of anxiety, sexual desire, and un-belonging to a tee.
Doing research for this article (Twitter threads) I stumbled upon a Bloomberg headline that read, “Young Join the Rich Fleeing America’s Big Cities for Suburbs.” I didn’t click on it because I hate it when news outlets generalize the move of a selected few by using shallow labels such as “millennials” or “young people” doing things. Why are millennials not buying diamonds anymore? Millennials are moving back home after college, destroying the house market. Young people want to literally eat the rich.
There are several things pushing Millennials and Gen Z to the suburbs. The pandemic. The crippling economy. There are no fucking jobs. But is it possible that some of us just rewatched “euphoria” for the tenth time in quarantine and got a craving for the chaotic, yet orderly and complicated life we always tried to escape? Don’t get me wrong. I’d rather get trashed in a Bushwick dive bar where the drinks are $8 each and the music is too cool for me to know, than wear matching pastel colors with my family at a DiGiorno’s on a Tuesday night.
I watched “euphoria” again when I moved to Connecticut, and for the first time, I didn’t yearn for a life that was happening in New York. I bought a skateboard instead, and every afternoon I’d take it out to the streets, blast Forever by Labrinth with my headphones on, and pretended this was a life that had been forced upon me. I’d watch children bike past me, arguing over who was the slowest one of the group. I briefly wondered if these kids would grow up to become Rues, or Maddys, or Nates. If their lives would be torn apart by the secrets of their parents.
Isn’t that what happens? We not only inherit a receding hairline that begins in our twenties or a hooked nose we would get rid of if it weren’t so painful. We inherit their problems and they follow us from the very first day we’re slapped butt-naked in the hospital to the day we’ll die.
This is why I relate to Rue. I’m always digging into seemingly ordinary narratives and carving out the secrets that were buried deep within. For example, my neighbor leaves every morning at 9 AM and the gardener, a young guy who once lost his shirt and hasn’t found it since, comes fifteen minutes after, yet the lawn is never trimmed. An old lady walks her cat around the block with a leash; the poor thing is so fucking used to it by now that I swear I’ve heard it bark. And the old couple that runs in absurd outfits–always neon green–can’t peel their eyes off the college guy who runs shirtless and in chubbies (both of them gawk).
There’s no point being made here, except for the fact that the suburbs are weird as fuck and that I’ve watched “euphoria” way too many times. When it comes to the people who live in the suburbs, though, I do wanna make a point. In New York, or any big city for that matter, it’s impossible to care about strangers and their lives in this way.
This story appeared in the October 2020 issue of Mud Magazine, which you can purchase here.