The teens at Euphoria High have endured their fair share of drama, but even that doesn’t compare to the chaos ensuing off-screen. As the second season of HBO’s first teenage-coming-of-age series has progressed, fans have become increasingly divided on the direction of its story lines, from the love triangle between Rue (Zendaya), Jules (Hunter Schafer), and newcomer Elliot (Dominic Fike) to Kat’s (Barbie Ferreira) nonexistent arc. Euphoria was born the subject of feverish debate, but the conversation — mostly directed at the show’s creator, director, and sole writer, Sam Levinson — is noticeably different this time. Every week like clockwork, his name lands in Twitter’s trending topics with questions not just about the latest episode but wondering whether the Assassination Nation filmmaker was a good writer in the first place. And beyond the quality of the show itself, circulating rumors and interview quotations have painted a troubling picture of a set dominated by a shortsighted auteur. You could write a dramatic HBO series about the show’s controversy, but here’s a not-so-comprehensive timeline of Euphoria’s harshest comedowns.
June 12, 2019: The Hollywood Reporter publishes a report on upcoming teen drama Euphoria and its controversial imagery — including one scene with “close to” 30 penises on display — setting the tone for its enduring reputation.
June 16, 2019: Euphoria premieres on HBO. Opening with Rue leaving her mother’s womb three days after 9/11, the pilot is a visceral but deftly handled ensemble piece that doubles as a visual spectacle. As each character endures 21st-century issues, the show cracks a dizzying window into Gen Z from leaked nudes to mental illness and drug addiction. No, the kids are not all right.
June 23, 2019: Rue lands herself into a potentially life-threatening situation when she visits dealer Fezco’s house and unwittingly encounters his knife-wielding supplier. But Fez, the soft-spoken drug dealer played by Angus Cloud in his first major role, ensures she remains safe, and we simply have to stan.
June 30, 2019: In its third episode, Euphoria demonstrates just how far it will push. Kat’s backstory establishes that she gained internet fame as “one of the most prolific smut writers on Tumblr,” and an animated sequence re-creates her lustful 7,000-word story about Harry Styles and Louis Tomlinson hooking up backstage during a One Direction tour.
July 1, 2019: Tomlinson is not happy about his cameo, breaking the hearts of Larry Stylinson shippers everywhere.
July 7, 2019: It’s a chaotic night at the carnival with a bucket of chili at its epicenter. Cal Jacobs (Eric Dane), whom Jules had sex with in the pilot, unaware he’s Nate’s dad, freaks out after brushing into her again. Maddy (Alexa Demie) pisses off Nate (Jacob Elordi), and Jules discovers Nate’s been catfishing her as ShyGuy118. But at the episode’s conclusion, Rue’s crush on Jules is finally reciprocated — and so “Rules” is born. Fans rejoice.
July 14, 2019: The stan tide somewhat turns on Kat. While her story line is lauded for subverting the “fat best friend” stereotype — encapsulated by her most iconic line, “There’s nothing more powerful than a fat girl who doesn’t give a fuck” — fans begin to voice their disatisfaction with her switch in behaviour. Namely, her coldness to her innocent lab partner Ethan (Austin Abrams) and that time she blows off Maddy to give a blowjob.
August 4, 2019: The season finale airs. Fans are stressed out for Fez, find Kat and Ethan adorable, and are divided on Jules. But if there’s one thing everyone can agree on, it’s that Zendaya deserves an Emmy.
September 20, 2020: Over a year later, in a low-key remote ceremony, Zendaya wins her first Emmy and becomes the youngest actress ever to win in her category. We will never be this happy again.
December 6, 2020: To curb the appetites of voracious viewers until season two, Euphoria returns briefly for two holiday specials. The first, “Trouble Don’t Last Always,” centers around Rue and her sponsor, Ali, as they have a cathartic conversation in a diner about addiction, religion, and her conflicting feelings about Jules abandoning her at the train station. Though it’s aesthetically muted compared to preceding episodes, the episode is critically acclaimed for the two-hander performances from Zendaya and Colman Domingo and also for just allowing the story to slow down and breathe.
January 24, 2021: It’s Jules’s turn for the second Euphoria special, “Fuck Anyone Who’s Not a Sea Blob”. Co-written by Schafer (making this episode the first and only episode to have more than one writer), her episode sees her open up about her gender identity and the responsibility she feels to prevent Rue from relapsing. When an episode opens with Lorde’s “Liability,” you know you’re in for a crying session.
February 5, 2021: With filming for Euphoria’s second season delayed because of the pandemic, Levinson and Zendaya secretly teamed up for romantic drama Malcolm & Marie, shot in one location under COVID-19 restrictions. Levinson, the son of Academy Award–winner Barry Levinson, aims for something between a more glamorous Marriage Story and a John Cassavetes picture, but the film fumbles immediately upon its release on Netflix. Many criticisms directed at Levinson’s screenplay are that it would have benefitted from collaborating with Black writers. Zendaya innocent.
November 12, 2021: After nearly a year of radio silence from Levinson, who hasn’t been interviewed since Malcolm & Marie, Euphoria is just weeks away from returning. But in a now-deleted Reddit post, plot details are leaked with alarming accuracy, including Cassie and Nate’s relationship and Rue’s addiction to heroin. The leaks don’t spread far beyond the show’s most fervent fan base, but those who did read them are mildly concerned.
January 5, 2022: Ferreira is noticeably absent from the show’s red-carpet premiere, fueling rumors to come surrounding her and Levinson’s supposed feud.
January 9, 2022: Euphoria is back in session! In typical fashion, the second season kicks off with a chaotic New Year’s Eve party that’s somehow messier than the last one. Fez gets a backstory — making him the last character to have the “traditional” Euphoria cold open — while Rue and Jules reunite and Cassie hooks up with Nate (creating the first of many memes). But it’s the surprise pairing of fan favorites Lexi (Maude Apatow) and Fez that are readily embraced by fans. Probably because they just seem really normal.
We’re also introduced to new addition Elliot, a character whose messy love triangle with Rue and Jules screams wasted potential. Fike’s presence simultaneously has people twirling their hair and seething with rage as Rules (whom Elliot explicitly refers to as a lesbian couple) gets a wedge driven between them by a man. Schafer voiced a similar sentiment, telling the Cut: “At first, I was like, Wait, why are we throwing, like, a dude into the middle of this? But it wouldn’t make a good show if we were doing what was best for the characters.” In the end, Elliot’s greatest contribution might be to TikTok.
January 17, 2022: Levinson’s name trends on Twitter as stans voice their complaints about the direction of the season in just one of many times his name becomes a hot topic of debate online. Only two episodes have aired by this point, but there’s already a noticeable shift in the conversation that goes beyond the story lines to the quality of the writing itself.
Notably, it’s also here that Euphoria makes its first major departure in structure. While every episode of season one began with a detailed backstory of major characters, the cold open of “Out of Touch” expands on Nate and his feelings for Cassie. That shift in focus has subsequently given more weight to the contentious story line in favor of almost every other character except Rue, belying the show’s large ensemble.
January 19, 2022: You can always count on Deuxmoi. One anonymous tip sent to the gossip account suggests that Ferreira and Levinson argued over Kat’s story line, leading to a severe reduction in screen time. Sure, Deuxmoi has spread its fair share of outrageous stories, but don’t discount it just yet.
January 23, 2022: The Independent publishes a profile of Sydney Sweeney in which she says she has never felt uncomfortable with shooting topless scenes in Euphoria. “There are moments where Cassie was supposed to be shirtless, and I would tell Sam, ‘I don’t really think that’s necessary here,’” she shares. “He was like, ‘Okay, we don’t need it.’ I’ve never felt like Sam has pushed it on me or was trying to get a nude scene into an HBO show. When I didn’t want to do it, he didn’t make me.” Though some appreciated Levinson’s openness to collaboration, others questioned why he was writing such an excessive amount of nudity in the first place. Sweeney would be the first of four actresses who expressed discomfort with the show’s nude scenes in season two. Up until season two, Sweeney’s boobs had been something of a playful, body-positive meme that she was in on, but the fun has evolved to concern that Levinson reduces Cassie to her body.
January 23, 2022: As Kat considers breaking up with Ethan again, her story line has come to a grinding halt in comparison to her expansive arc last season. Three episodes in, Ferreira has had about two minutes of screen time. Those Deuxmoi rumors are looking kind of plausible. Euphoria’s die-hard stans grow increasingly exasperated with how plotlines are playing out. The suggestion of diversifying Levinson’s nonexistent writers’ room gains traction amid concerns around the show’s treatment of women.
January 30, 2022: A week after Sweeney’s interview, Chloe Cherry, the former adult actress who plays heroin addict Faye, tells the Daily Beast that she was supposed to be naked for the scene in which she gets stuffed into a motel vent by her boyfriend, Custer (Tyler Chase). Notably, it was her first day on set. “It probably would’ve been more comfortable had we had a little more time to know each other,” she says. “Sam wanted to do the scene with me completely naked, and Tyler was like, ‘That’s a lot,’ so they decided not to. But I was covered in fake blood and just felt so good being on set.” In contrast to Sweeney, it was Cherry’s co-star who spoke up for her, raising concerns about actors on set who don’t necessarily feel like as though have the power to voice their discomfort.
February 4, 2022: Not even the discourse can topple Euphoria. With its viewership continuing to rise every week, HBO renews the drama for a third season.
February 7, 2022: The fifth episode, “Stand Still Like the Hummingbird,” airs, and it’s universally agreed upon as the peak of an otherwise underwhelming season. Euphoria temporarily drops its ensemble entirely in a Rue-centric one-night odyssey across East Highland that is at once astounding and harrowing. Still, Levinson cannot catch a break as fans are convinced the episode is too good to have been written by him. “Imagine being such an insanely unwell writer that the ONE outstanding episode of the season has people saying you must’ve hired a ghostwriter,” one viewer tweeted.
And just when Levinson had won back a little goodwill, terminally online playwright and Euphoria consulting producer Jeremy O. Harris chimes in with a series of tweets filled with effusive praise. “I been told y’all to stop talking shit about my boy Sam Levinson bc THIS SEASON OF #EUPHORIA is made for ppl with an intellect for CINEMA and not the impatience of TELEVISION,” he wrote. In between live tweets of the episode, O’Harris continued to defend the season, adding, “I see this season of #Euphoria as a Gesamtkunstwerk that rejects the ‘episode’ by ‘episode’ mentality of most shows. I hope this episode inspires more patience in how the piece will feel as a whole when it’s done. Think of it like Dickens’ periodicals and not serialized tv.”
If comparing Levinson to literal Charles Dickens wasn’t enough, he posted again, “#Euphoria isn’t this generation’s Kids. It’s this generation’s Pulp Fiction. It will inspire so many emerging artists in ways we haven’t seen in years.” The quote tweets are brutal.
February 13, 2022: Martha Kelly, who plays deadpan drug dealer Laurie, reveals she was initially reluctant to shoot the disturbing scene in which she undresses Rue and injects her with morphine in an interview with Variety. According to Kelly, the scene on paper was “even creepier because Laurie is helping her undress and get in the tub, and it is approaching this gross pedophilia vibe.” After Kelly spoke with Levinson, the final scene was toned down with the sequence shot from a distance and out of focus.
Ringing in Valentine’s Day, Fez and Lexi hold hands for the first time, sending Fexi shippers into such a frenzy that Levinson trends on Twitter again with threats to never break them up. The scene comes after three episodes of minimal to zero screen time of the couple with the series instead focusing on less popular story lines like Cassie and Nate’s relationship and Cal’s backstory.
On the other hand, Kat’s attempt to break up with Ethan by faking a terminal brain illness and then gaslighting him is a move so foolish that Levinson faces accusations of character assassination. Have fun traversing the minefield that is the comment section below the official Instagram.
February 14, 2022: Throughout the season, Maddy relaxes at a decadent cliffside mansion for her cushy babysitting gig and eventually finds a friend and mentor in the home’s owner, Samantha, played by Minka Kelly. But in an interview with Vanity Fair, Kelly reveals their scenes initially had a sexual edge to them until she spoke up. In the scene in which Maddy zips down her dress, Levinson suggested letting it fall to the ground. “That was my first day as a guest on this new show, and I just didn’t feel comfortable standing there naked,” Kelly said. Fans are sensing a pattern.
February 18, 2022: The Daily Beast publishes a story on the show’s behind-the-scenes drama. While it mostly reiterates other reported anecdotes such as the curious disappearance of McKay (Algee Smith), it also confirms the rumors of a clash between Ferreira and Levinson. Ferreira reportedly walked off set on at least two occasions not including the time she twisted her ankle while filming the now-infamous hot-tub projectile-vomit scene from episode four.
The report also claims that production faced “gruelingly long workdays that could stretch anywhere from 15 to 17 hours,” allegedly a result of Levinson showing up to set with no shot list, just vibes. While some argued that workdays upwards of 12 hours is the norm, others countered that the industry standard is the problem. Levinson has already faced accusations of exploiting actors on a weekly basis, but Euphoria may be more emblematic of poor working conditions in Hollywood than fans originally thought. With Levinson already branded a menace to society ahead of the season-two finale, the most obsessive viewers are questioning whether the director can even do his job. The bar is six feet under.