Is there a darker side to glossy teen drama Euphoria? Or is controversy surrounding its sex and nudity a cunning – and extremely successful – ploy to get even more people talking about “the most shocking show on TV”?
In recent weeks, the Taschen coffee-table book version of Skins has faced internet outrage regarding the nudity that thrums though season two, with barely concealed Twitter ragers and showrunner Sam Levinson trending constantly. But is there actually a cause for concern or is this fabricated scandal exactly what Levinson wants?
Last month, Sydney Sweeney, who plays Cassie – a troubled 18-year-old who’s drowning in a sea of similarly tortured teens – told The Independent that she’d said to Levinson that she felt her character didn’t always need to take her top off. “There are moments where Cassie was supposed to be shirtless and I would tell Sam, ‘I don’t really think that’s necessary here’,” said Sweeney, who is 24 in real life. To his credit, Levinson was apparently extremely receptive to Sweeney’s feedback. “He was like, ‘OK, we don’t need it’.” She added: “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.”
Similar comments were made last week by actor Minka Kelly – who plays Samantha, the mother of a child that Alexa Demie’s character Maddy babysits. Kelly explained to Vanity Fair that she also told Levinson that she didn’t want to strip for a scene. “That was my first day as a guest on this new show, and I just didn’t feel comfortable standing there naked,” she said. “He was like, ‘OK!’ He didn’t even hesitate. And he shot a beautiful scene and got exactly what he wanted.”
Chloe Cherry, who plays the frazzled Faye, has also said that Levinson was keen for her first appearance in the show to involve nudity. It was her co-star Tyler Chase – who plays Faye’s drug dealer boyfriend Custer – who actually called it out. “Sam wanted to do the scene with me completely naked and Tyler was like, ‘That’s a lot,’ so they decided not to,” Cherry told The Daily Beast.
Much has been made online about the fact that Cherry, who is also a popular adult film actor, might have been hired because of her work in the porn industry. Perhaps somebody who takes their clothes off for a living would be less likely to turn down a nude scene? Was this a machiavellian move by Levinson to secure more flesh for the show? Possibly, but Cherry recently shot down rumours that she was cast because of her involvement in an infamous Euphoria porn parody – she was actually hired by Levinson five months before she even shot it.
The truth about Euphoria’s behind-the-scenes dynamics might just be a bit more nuanced. Sweeney, Kelly and Cherry were extremely clear about the fact that Levinson respected their – or Chase’s – requests for less nudity. And while some cast members’ outfits can be skimpy at best – though it’s nothing that you won’t see on an average episode of Love Island – Euphoria’s nude scenes are not actually as common as the internet might make out.
Still, skin serves a purpose. Titillation and gratuitous nudity is a huge part of why people watch the show, while some of its biggest water-cooler moments this season have come from its depiction of male nudity. In fact, there’s something to be said for Euphoria levelling the playing field when it comes to equal-opportunity objectification. It’s not all boobs upon boobs – the cock count is impressively high, with drunken dad Cal (Eric Dane) whipping his penis out in the family hallway, Ansel Pierce’s bathroom schlong reveal at a house party and a mid-fellatio shootout that opened the season.
It’s also important to note that while they might be playing teenagers, none of the actors who have so far stripped have been underage – indeed, all are over 21. Rather, the outcry seems to come from dated, old school Hollywood archetypes: the vulnerable actor against the tyrannical director, the fragile star without agency, the sleazy cabal of sinister producers taking advantage of a young cast. Amid a post-#MeToo wave of on-set intimacy co-ordinators – who extensively choreograph and talk through sex scenes with the view to making everything consensual and comfortable – any exploitation on a film or television set is a pretty high risk move, and it would be unwise for Levinson to even try.
Of course people are shocked by Euphoria. If they weren’t, a show that prides itself on shock value wouldn’t be doing its job properly. Without the nudity, drugs, sex and violence, Euphoria would be in danger of getting lost in the listings; another teen drama in a sea of them. People might still watch it, but more importantly, who’d talk about it on the internet?
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