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Zendaya's Euphoria special performance perfectly captures the end of 2020

  • “The world’s just really f*ckin’ ugly and everyone seems to be okay with it,” Zendaya's Rue says in the holiday/pandemic special episode. "That’s a pretty accurate, concise way to summarize why 2020 has wrecked so many of us," Jen Chaney says of the episode. Chaney adds that the special also features other oblique allusions to this exhausting year. "There is also something definitively 'end of 2020' about what Zendaya captures in this performance," says Chaney. "A key part of that is the exhaustion that radiates off of her, off of Rue. Rue is tired. Her shoulders sag. Her eyelids, devoid, like the rest of her face, of all makeup, frequently droop. She talks slowly and sometimes can’t muster more than a mumble or whisper. The expression in her eyes, when she’s not pondering some wisdom (Colman Domingo's) Ali is sharing, is one of surrender. For Rue, that feeling has been precipitated by the sadness of losing Jules, her disappointment in herself for the way she treats her mom and her sister, her ambivalence about trying to stay clean. But that sense of defeat is recognizable and relatable to anyone watching Euphoria as we, too, approach the holiday season at the end of this stultifying year. We’re all spent and depleted and running on the last tiny cloud-remnants of fumes. Zendaya makes manifest that feeling. Her entire being in this episode is the equivalent of a jagged, heavy sigh."


    • The Rue Euphoria special worked because it barely resembled the show: "On the one hand, a special has to be substantive enough to justify fans going out of their way to take in the supplementary viewing," says Alison Herman. "On the other, it has to be technically skippable; while their events are part of the show’s canon, holiday specials also exist apart from the primary text. It’s therefore unwise to fill them with events that meaningfully shift the status quo of the series; this is a difficult box to check while also trying to make a special seem, well, special. The production restrictions of COVID-19, meanwhile, mark an additional hurdle: Any new material has to be filmed without unnecessary crowds and at great additional expense. Last summer, Euphoria brought HBO hub into the world of YA and won star Zendaya a surprise Emmy this fall. Sam Levinson’s opus on addiction and ennui ended its promising, uneven first season with Zendaya’s troubled loner Rue experiencing a relapse, hinting that the already ordered Season 2 could be even darker (though obviously still neon-lit) than the first. But the pandemic shut down production on the follow-up before it even started. Euphoria proper won’t be back until late next year at the earliest. Until then, fans will have to make do with a good old Christmas special—a Euphoria chapter that feels nothing like Euphoria, partly out of necessity and partly out of intention."
    • Colman Domingo's Euphoria research included speaking with addicts: Creator Sam Levinson "gives you the words, and then of course, you feel the responsibility to make sure that you actually have more insight into addicts," Domingo tells EW. "Whatever research, whatever I find online, whatever I found in learning more about 12 steps and exactly what the 12 steps are, but it means I had conversations with addicts. I have had some addicts in my family that I've actually had conversations with, and also Sam gave us the most beautiful gift, which is actually including the scene with Miss Marsha. Ms. Marsha (Marsha Gambles) is a recovering addict for about 17 years I believe. The one that was waiting tables there, and she offers up stories. We have great conversations with her, great insight. And so, you have the truth in the scene. I personally felt like I had the truth right over my shoulder, so there was no way I could actually play a false note. I had the responsibility of Miss Marsha literally over my right shoulder."
    • When did creator Sam Levinson decide to make the two Euphoria specials?: "I had a feeling that the pandemic was going to shut us down for a while leading up to it because I was watching what was happening to the rest of the world," Levinson tells GQ. "So the day they called to shut us down, I actually pitched the idea of doing a super contained Euphoria movie, and if not that, then multiple character studies. And HBO said, 'I think we should all just go home and stay inside for six weeks!' Six weeks later, they said that we were most likely going to push season two until September. I then wrote Malcolm and Marie, which they gave me their blessing to go shoot with Z and our Euphoria crew. Then season two got pushed until 2021, so they asked if I could do COVID episodes. And to be honest, I loved the challenge that COVID restrictions put on the show as a medium. We shot everything in that diner in three-and-a-half days."

    TOPICS: Zendaya, HBO, Euphoria, Colman Domingo, Sam Levinson, Coronavirus