HBO’s gritty teen drama, “Euphoria,” had an immediate impact with Season 1, becoming a cultural phenomenon as the streamer’s second most-watched show after “Game of Thrones.” It pulverized viewers with Gen Z trauma about sex, drugs, violence, and social media. As IndieWire’s Jim Hemphill observed, the “conceptual and technical fearlessness” of showrunner Sam Levinson and and his craft teams tapped the “passion, angst, rage” of its teenagers (led by Emmy winner Zendaya as drug addict and unreliable narrator Rue).
Yet “Euphoria” has underperformed at the Creative Arts Emmys, collecting only two wins out of five nominations for Season 1 in 2020. These were for contemporary (non-prosthetic) makeup and original song (“All For Us” by Labrinth). (The show’s other 2020 nominations: contemporary costumes, original score, and music supervision.) Then, in 2021, “Euphoria” was snubbed for its two special episodes after being nominated for its kinetic and colorful cinematography, and once more for contemporary costumes and makeup.
Will the fact that “Euphoria” didn’t win any of the craft awards it was nominated for last year hurt its chances in those categories this season? Not necessarily. The knock on “Euphoria” is that it’s a triumph of style over substance. But Season 2 saw a dramatic change in direction — exploring the internal psyche of the characters through more introspection and a new visual aesthetic. That could have an impact on voters’ perceptions and improving its chances for more wins and nominations.
What craft categories is “Euphoria” competing in?
According to HBO, “Euphoria” will be submitted for the following Creative Arts Emmys:
- Outstanding Single-Camera Picture Editing for a Drama Series (“The Theater and Its Double”)
- Outstanding Cinematography for a Single-Camera Series (One-Hour)
- Outstanding Casting for a Drama Series
- Outstanding Contemporary Costumes (“Trying to Get to Heaven Before They Close the Door”)
- Outstanding Choreography for Scripted Programming
- Outstanding Contemporary Hairstyling (“The Theater and Its Double”)
- Outstanding Contemporary Makeup (Non-Prosthetic) (“The Theater and Its Double”)
- Outstanding Music Composition for a Series (Original Dramatic Score) (“Out of Touch”)
- Outstanding Music Supervision (“Trying to Get to Heaven Before They Close the Door”)
- Outstanding Original Music & Lyrics (“I’m Tired” and “Elliot’s Song”)
- Outstanding Production Design for a Narrative Contemporary Program (One Hour or More) (“The Theater and Its Double”)
- Outstanding Sound Editing for a Comedy or Drama Series (One Hour) (“Stand Still Like the Hummingbird”)
- Outstanding Sound Mixing for a Comedy or Drama Series (One Hour) (“Stand Still Like the Hummingbird”)
- Outstanding Stunt Coordination for a Drama Series, Limited or Anthology Series or Movie
- Outstanding Special Visual Effects In A Single Episode (“All My Life, My Heart Has Yearned for a Thing I Cannot Name”)
- Outstanding Stunt Performance (“You Who Cannot See, Think of Those Who Can,” “Stand Still Like the Hummingbird,” and “All My Life, My Heart Has Yearned for a Thing I Cannot Name”)
Cinematography: The switch from digital to film
The surest bet for success is cinematography. That’s because in Season 2 Levinson and cinematographer Marcel Rév to went from large-format digital to 35mm, reviving Kodak’s Ektachrome film stock. The result was a switch from mirroring the visual language of its teenage protagonists in Season 1 to nostalgic memory of evoking old photographs in Season 2. This look was conveyed by Ektachrome’s creamy green and amber glow and blown out contrast of a thin negative. The flashy opening eight-minute flashback set the tone immediately with the Ektachrome. It deals with the backstory of drug dealer Fez (Mason Shea Joyce) being introduced as a child to the violent drug trade by his grandmother (Marie O’Neill). However, the kinetic, crane-heavy choreography continued to add to the explosive interplay between characters and “the liminal spaces, the netherworlds between rationality and irrationality….”
The rest of the field: Here’s what “Euphoria” is up against: previous nominees “Bridgerton” (Netflix), “Ozark” (Netflix), “Stranger Things” (Netflix), and “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel” (Amazon Prime Video), along with such newcomers as “Pachinko” (Apple TV+), “Severance” (Apple TV+), “Squid Game” (Netflix), and “Winning Time: The Rise of the Lakers Dynasty” (HBO). In particular, Adam McKay’s dramatization of the Showtime era with Magic Johnson (Quincy Isaiah) is a direct competitor with its own memory-infused aesthetic shot on film. Cinematographers Todd Banhazl and Mihai Malaimare Jr. ambitiously experimented with different stocks and formats to create archival footage that functions as a pop culture mixtape “from our collective memory.”
Eddy Chen / HBO
Costume design: Embracing the dream world
The costume design of Heidi Bivens, which received two nominations for Season 1, was also impacted by the “shift in the color arcs” as a result of Ektachrome. Bivens took the opportunity for more daring choices influenced by runway fashion and social media. Like Rév’s work, this should be an attention-grabber with Emmy voters. “I was excited to ride the line between the reality of the world we had established and the dream world that exists in the characters’ consciousnesses and memories,” she said. Among the new additions were Faye’s (Chloe Cherry) anime-inspired halter and “Cowboy Bebop”-influenced Nike Uptempo sneakers, and Cassie (Sydney Sweeney) and Maddy (Alexa Demie) wearing matching outfits. Plus, the eclectic theatricality on display in episode seven’s “The Theater and its Double,” featuring Lexi’s (Maude Apatow) provocative high school play about her classmates, “Our Life.”
The rest of the field: But Biven will face considerable competition from such new entries as “Emily in Paris” (this year’s CDG winner from Netflix) and “Squid Game” (Netflix), as well as previous winner “Russian Doll” (Netflix) and the nominated “Hacks” (HBO Max), “Black-ish” (ABC), and “This Is Us” (NBC).
Eddy Chen / HBO
Music supervision: The thin line between reality and hyper-reality
Season 2 offered another creative and eclectic playlist (more than 100 songs) conveying the mood and key character arcs. Music supervisors Jen Malone and Adam Leber once again worked from showrunner Levinson’s preferred tracks in the script, while uncovering their own surprises (such as the unreleased electro-rap song, “Sad4whattt,” by Ericdoa). However, given the more reflective tone, the line between reality and hyper-reality blurred even more. This reached a pinnacle with Lexi’s “Our Life,” highlighted by the homoerotic showstopper, “Holding Out for a Hero” (by Bonnie Tyler), in which Ethan (Austin Abrams) poses as a fictional Nate (Jacob Elordi) in a hallucinatory pumping iron scene.
The rest of the field: But there will be formidable competition from three-time winner “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel” (Prime Video), which enters the ’60s with a new burst of creativity, along with “Bridgerton,” “Stranger Things,” “Russian Doll,” “Yellowjackets” (Showtime), and “Atlanta” (FX).
Eddy Chen / HBO
One of the goals will be continuing the Emmy momentum in various nominated categories, including original song (this season’s entry: “Elliot’s Song” by Dominic Fike and Zendaya) and Doniella Davy’s groundbreaking makeup work. Another is to break out into other categories, including production design, sound mixing (sound editing is usually reserved for more action-oriented shows), and editing. Production designer Jason Baldwin Stewart staged Lexi’s play, “Our Life,” by making it seem an authentic, if expensive, high school production. There were two challenges: differentiating the look of the play from the rest of the episode and jumping in and out of the meta moments on stage and and unsettling reactions from classmates in the audience. This was accomplished through the creation of an auditorium that featured an onstage turntable that enabled set changes with Levinson’s desire to create in-camera transitions with dream-like movement. Stewart told IndieWire: “We do a lot of aerial shots on ‘Euphoria,’ and we see more ceilings and floors than on most shows — shots that are difficult to achieve on a static location. It took quite a bit of thought to build that auditorium in a way that would maximize the space and support as many long lens and crane shots as possible.”
The rest of the field: Contemporary production design competition, though, will come from the likes of “Succession” (HBO), “Squid Game,” “Ozark,” “Russian Doll,” and “Emily in Paris.”
Because of the further deep dive into the musical playlist (the series is like a mini-musical at times), particularly with the inclusion of the “Our Life” play, it stands to reason that sound mixing should be in play for its dramatic impact.
The rest of the field: However, competition will come from “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel” (a previous winner), “Stranger Things,” “Star Trek: Strange New Worlds” (Paramount+), “Foundation” (Apple TV+), “Severance” (Apple TV+), “The Man Who Fell to Earth” (Showtime), and “Outer Range” (Prime Video).
In terms of editing, the shift in Levinson and Rév’s visual approach had an impact, resulting in a “more restrained yet poetic cutting pattern” for supervising editor Julio C. Perez IV. He reveled in the impressionistic tone and ambiguities, yet wasn’t afraid of the show’s overall bombast. This was especially appropriate in conveying the doppelganger theme among various characters, particularly Nate, whose sexual insecurity was underscored during the “Holding Out for a Hero” number in Lexi’s play. “Breaking down dualities like good and evil makes us stretch out a little bit and try to really understand what it means to be toxic or non-toxic and how someone can be very complicated,” Perez told IndieWire,
The rest of the field: The prospects for an editing nomination — dominated by prestige dramas “Succession,” “Severance,” “Stranger Things,” “Ozark,” “Better Call Saul” (AMC) — will depend on “Euphoria” being taken more seriously by voters and getting nominated for best drama series.