parental guidance

A Euphoria Parent Report Card

When it comes to grading bad parenting, Cal really sets the curve. Photo: Eddy Chen/HBO

At this point, it’s beyond cliché to say Euphoria is every parent’s nightmare, and yet you can’t make it too far in Euphoria discourse before encountering the “Where are the parents?” conundrum. It’s a fair question considering so much of HBO’s teen drama revolves around drug use, graphic violence, sexual assault, depression, anxiety, and just about every kind of emotional and physical trauma you can think of. As much as we sickos love to witness all the chaos unfold on this prestige soap opera, it must be utterly exhausting for the onscreen parents to watch their kids go through the wringer — how do the Euphoria parents manage?

That’s what we’re here to find out. Since the Euphoria teens act like (and are played by) adults, we’re going to treat the actual adults of Euphoria like students by grading their performances as parents. Because we know so little about most of the Euphoria parents due to their limited screen time, in some cases we’ll have to distill their influence from the actions of their children, while taking a close look at the explosive parent-child moments scattered throughout the season. Let’s begin.

Kat’s mom 
Let’s just get the underachievers out of the way. Kat’s mom kept her cool when her wallflower daughter suddenly switched to a dominatrix’s wardrobe in the first season, but she’s completely absent this season. Hate to do it, but Incomplete 

Maddy’s mom and dad
Aside from her mom being an aesthetician and her dad an alcoholic, we don’t know all that much about Maddy’s parents. Lexi’s play revealed that Maddy used to stay at the Howard house when her parents fought, but there has been no other mention of them this season. I can’t help but wonder how Nate managed to break into Maddy’s room and play Russian roulette with her while her parents were presumably in the other room. Anyway: Incomplete

Ethan’s mom and dad
For a show that depicts drug overdoses and violent beatings, one of the most brutal scenes this season is the dinner where Kat meets Ethan’s parents. Watching Kat psychologically spiral when his mom says, “So Katherine, tell me about yourself” is not for the faint of heart. As for Ethan’s parents, his mom’s “wasn’t that illuminating” barb might have been a touch too vicious, but Ethan seems like a well-adjusted and emotionally attuned kid. I’m assuming they have something to do with that, so they’ve earned a B.

Marie O’Neill (Fezco’s grandmother)
I know we’re looking at these characters through the lens of parenting, but I love Fez’s grandma. She opened the season and the long-awaited Fezco episode with so much insanity that the rest of the season feels like it’s amped up to keep pace, for better or worse. After rescuing Fez from his abusive father, she raises him not as her own kid but as her business partner in her drug-selling operation — with mixed results. Sure, Fez learns some valuable lessons for living a difficult life, but they come at the expense of his childhood innocence and safety. Even though she accidentally knocked him out with a crowbar once, I still find her one of the warmest characters on Euphoria. I get that she’s far from the best guardian and doesn’t pass down the best judgment to her disciples, but she did manage to instill family values in Fez and his “brother” Ashtray. No character in Euphoria values the idea of family more than Fez, and his desire to protect the people he loves comes from his grandma. It shows in his caretaking for his grandmother, who is incapacitated and on a number of meds (which Rue tries to steal) in one of the rooms in the house. So while I’m guessing most people would find it difficult to give Fez’s grandma a passing grade because she turned the two children in her care into drug dealers, you won’t find that sort of judgment here. C+

Suze Howard (Cassie and Lexi’s mom)
If we were grading strictly on vibes, Suze would be valedictorian. She loves a glass of wine, can get down to some reality TV, and genuinely knows how to have a good time. Tragically, it takes more than vibes to raise teenage girls. And yet, while she’s certainly lacking some fairly crucial parenting skills, she’s capable of being both firm and tender with her children. She’s supportive during Cassie’s abortion and unwavering when she tries to downplay sleeping with Nate. (“I’m pointing out the principle … the ‘don’t fuck your best friend’s boyfriend’ principle.”) Sure, you can ding her for a number of flubs — allowing all the underage drinking; not paying enough attention to Lexi; just watching as Cassie leaves the house to live with Nate, a known maniac — but like Leslie, she’s raising two daughters without any help since her husband’s addiction leaves him out of the picture. Suze, you’re doing all right. B-

Cal Jacobs (Nate’s dad)
Nice try, ’80s-inspired, homoerotic flashback sequence, but no amount of star-crossed dancing to “Never Tear Us Apart” will distract me from Cal being the worst person in all of Euphoria. Where to begin with Cal? Probably his parenting style, which can be summed up as: abusive. He hates himself for the toxic masculinity his dad instilled in him, instills that same toxicity in Nate, hates him for it, and openly despises Nate … for reminding him of himself? Phew, that is some Hall of Fame level of shitty parenting! But it doesn’t end there, because his penchant for videotaping the anonymous sex he has with strangers (without their consent!) during his double life as a sexual predator results in his son’s lifelong trauma and resentment. When he’s not being a complete asshole to his own kids, he’s mistreating other people’s kids, having sex with an underage Jules (and videotaping it!), berating McKay for not getting enough playing time on his college football team, threatening the Howard girls for information, and stalking Fez at his work and home. Man, this guy sucks so much. It’s fitting that the last time we see him, he’s drunk and being told to put his penis away before walking out on his family. (Hopefully for good?). F- 

Cal’s dad
Let’s just keep it moving.

Marsha Jacobs (Nate’s mom)
Since Cal is such an unholy prick, you’d hope that Nate’s mom would be a decent parent once Cal was out of the picture. But nope, she’s horrible too. It’s not until after Cal flees in the night that we get our first substantial Masha scene, and what an unpleasant person she turns out to be. Over morning drinks, she celebrates Nate choking Maddy, considers getting a teenage boyfriend, and wonders how her son became so dark and angry. Marsha, the call is coming from inside the house. Being a decent parent means that you care about the well-being of all the kids in your orbit, not just your own. Marsha knows Nate is psychologically and physically abusive to Maddy and Cassie … and just lets him do it? Even in her house? As the poet Maddy Perez put it, this whole family is so fucking weird. Since Cal sets the Jacobs’ grading system on a curve, Marsha manages to just get by because she hasn’t tormented any children directly. But she’s still a shitty person. A solid D feels both right and wrong.

David Vaughn (Jules’s dad)
Did you know he had a name and that it’s David? Anyway, Jules’s dad has never been a major player but managed to display top-notch parenting skills in the little screen time he had in season one (including Jules’s special episode). He has set clear boundaries that every high school student needs while respecting Jules’s need to explore her identity and gender. Even though his entire parenting performance is reduced to three lines questioning whether Rue is a good influence, it’s still possible to see his warm impact on Jules as she moves through the season. Jules gets into a healthy level of high school mischief — making out with teens her own age, stealing beer from a liquor store — while navigating her best friend’s spiral into addiction. I’m giving David partial credit for Jules’s resolve this season. B+

Leslie Bennett (Rue and Gia’s mom)
No parent has the deck stacked against them more than Rue’s mother, Leslie. When we first met Leslie, she was recently widowed and taking care of her eldest daughter, who was fresh from rehab. How are things lately? Not great, Bob! Our girl is struggling. Rue has relapsed and is now on opioids, while Gia is seeing her grades slip and spending too much time in detention from all the stress at home. The “where are the parents?” complaint feels the most misguided when it’s about the Bennett girls, because the likely answer is that she is at one of her multiple jobs so she can support her family financially all on her own But Leslie does get more screen time than the rest of the parents, and most of those scenes reveal the horrors and depth of Rue’s addiction. Rue screams at her, shoves her, and inflicts all sorts of physical and emotional pain onto her mom, who recovers quickly to get back to mothering her daughter. She waits up at night for Rue to return, watches over her as she goes through withdrawal, and fights to keep her daughter alive. She is not perfect, and the results might not bear out in the end, but no parent is fighting harder than Leslie Bennett. A+

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A Euphoria Parent Report Card