HBO, in its constant quest to jettison traditional norms of dignity, is presenting a new series aimed at teens that features graphic nudity and, you guessed it, a former Disney Channel child star who wants to be taken seriously as an actress.
“Euphoria,” starring Zendaya, who first came to prominence on Disney Channel’s “Shake It Up,” features an actor using a prosthetic penis to commit a rape as well as a scene in which roughly 30 young men are shown fully nude, as The Hollywood Reporter (THR) notes. There’s a sex scene between teens involving choking and even a charming scene where an obese man on a webcam masturbates to a young woman.
THR states that Zendaya (Zendaya Maree Stoermer Coleman) had “been searching for a reputation-busting role that would signal her transition from Disney Channel to adult actress.” Zendaya told THR, “We can get away with a lot of shit with comedy. I’ve only really done family movies, so everybody sees me a certain way and doesn’t assume that I can do [a part like this] — or that I want to.”
Of course, the network is protesting that they aren’t purveying such material just to titillate; HBO programming president Casey Bloys breathed, “It’s not sensational to be sensational,” adding, “It may seem boundary-pushing, and the idea of putting them on TV may be, but somebody lived them.”
But “Euphoria” creator Sam Levinson, who wrote the series based on his own experiences with drug addiction, boasted, “There are going to be parents who are going to be totally fucking freaked out.” THR writes, “ …former HBO chairman Richard Plepler would often tell people the series makes Netflix’s teen suicide drama 13 Reasons Why look like an after-school special.”
Rolling Stone noted in October 2018, “HBO has now adopted a policy whereby all of its shows and movies with intimate scenes will be staffed with an intimacy coordinator.”
One actor who was on the pilot for the show signed off after discovering how much farther the show would push the envelope; Brian “Astro” Bradley, whom THR described as “a former X Factor contestant and rapper signed to Nas’ label,” said he wanted out.
According to THR, in his desire to push graphic scenes to the limit, Levinson wanted one shot to start with a dolly shot going straight into a woman’s vagina. That was nixed; Levinson said, “They were like, ‘Nah, you can’t open it that way,’ I just thought, ‘It’s a battle I don’t need to fight right now.'” The scene with the multiple boys and their penises was less than Levinson originally intended; he said the original shot had “like, 80 more” penises.
Bloys said HBO has not tried to censor the creative process, crowing, “No one has come to us and said, ‘Hey, tone this down. The only thing they’ve done is given us more money and said, ‘Keep doing what you’re doing.'”
Parents Television Council president Tim Winter slammed the series that it “appears to be overtly, intentionally marketing extremely graphic adult content — sex, violence, profanity and drug use — to teens and preteens.” A breathless review in TV Guide gushed, “Euphoria is shocking, but perhaps it shouldn’t be. It depicts a generation that’s grown up with the entire world at its fingertips — a generation that can not only see porn before they’re supposed to but create it and send it too. They’ve watched as adults fumbled the environment, government, religion, and pretty much everything that’s supposed to provide structure and guidance.”