Zendaya in HBO series "Euphoria"
photo: HBO

Zendaya has been hot on the press tour for her new HBO series, Euphoria

The teen drama series will premiere this Sunday, June 16. Created by Sam Levinson, it focuses on a group of high schoolers navigating through traumatic waters. The series will deal with sexual assault, death, and drug addiction. This is a giant leap from Zendaya's more family-friendly content as she comes from a Disney background that includes the KC Undercover and Shake It Up series. The change has some parents concerned that the show is marketed to a too-young audience. 

Of course, HBO is notorious for its explicit content and people shouldn't be all-too surprised that a show on the network will feature graphic elements. One of the primary concerns, however, is the depiction of drug addiction in teenagers and how the creators will handle that sensitive topic. Some mental health advocates are recalling Netflix's treatment of 13 Reasons Why and the controversy that stirred. 

The cast is comprised of young Hollywood A-listers like Zendaya, Jacob Elordi, and Maude Apatow plus a few newcomers. 

The young actors in the series are popular with a younger generation and are sure to draw a teen audience. This show marks Zendaya's transition from a child star to an adult actor. The 22-year-old actor plays the show's narrator and lead character Rue who struggles with drug addiction. 

Zendaya told the New York Times, "I don’t think any of my 8-year-old fans know that this show exists... If they do, I don’t think their parents will let them watch it." 

Two of the newbies are Barbie Ferreira and Hunter Schaefer whose characters experience sexual harassment and/or assault very early on in the show.

As these types of scenes can be triggering for the actors portraying them as they can be for viewers, HBO has made efforts to make filming sex scenes on set safer by hiring intimacy coordinators. Ferreira told The Hollywood Reporter what it meant when the series's Intimacy Coordinator, Amanda Blumenthal, came to their trailer. "If you got a visit from Amanda that day, you knew it was going down," the actor explained.

The two new actors were also interviewed by Paper Magazine. Ferreira discusses her role in the body positivity movement and where her character fits into that. Additionally, Schaefer also elaborated on her goals concerning transgender representation and portraying an authentic version of her character. 

The Parents Television Council issued a warning ahead of the show's release. 

The Council's Twitter account shared a portion of its president Tim Winter's concerns. "Parents, be forewarned: @HBO, with its new high school centered show #Euphoria, appears to be 'overtly, intentionally, marketing extremely graphic adult content – sex, violence, profanity, and drug use – to teens and preteens." 

Even the edgy HBO network pushed back on two scenes and pulled them in a final edit because they were too risqué. One of the scenes that had to be revised was a locker room that featured dozens of naked boys and full frontal nudity. Male nudity did make the final cut, though, and one episode features about 30 penises.

While male nudity is one concern, the primary issue should be how the show will depict drug addiction. 

Creator Sam Levinson wrote the eight episodes, based on an Israeli show of the same name, with his own experience with addiction in mind.

Two graphic scenes in the show depict vivid overdoses and a statutory rape scene with a visibly-erect prosthetic penis. President of HBO told The Hollywood Reporter, "It's not sensational to be sensational... It may seem boundary-pushing, and the idea of putting them on TV may be, but somebody lived them."

One cast member quit while filming the pilot, reportedly because the content became too much. 

Rapper, actor, and former X Factor contestant Brian "Astro" Bradley (of Netflix's film, See You YesterdayI) left the show and was replaced by Algee Smith (The Hate U Give). According to The Hollywood Reporter, Bradley left after finding out his character could potentially experiment with homosexuality. 

His scenes from the pilot were reshot with Smith as a replacement. One of those scenes is an intense sex scene, according to The Hollywood Reporter, and co-star Sydney Sweeney said, "Let's just say I'm very glad that Algee is playing the character." 

Drake is producing the series that has been compared to his former racy teen drama Degrassi, only even more extreme.  

Levinson warned in The Hollywood Reporter article that, "There are going to be parents who are going to be totally (redacted) freaked out." Zendaya tagged one of the show's producers that is highly recognizable in this teaser trailer on her Instagram post.  

"June 16. @euphoria @hbo @a24@champagnepapi."  

The young stars of the show have commended the series for its depiction of genuine teen experiences. They hope that it opens up conversations about what high school is really like, even the gritty and uncomfortable sides. 

HBO announced the show during the airing of Game of Thrones and Big Little Lies season two. It's worth it to note that neither of those two shows are "kid-friendly" either.

The show may depict teenage experiences but HBO doesn't necessarily market to teens. Game of Thrones and Big Little Lies are two series that showed nudity, graphic sex scenes, and sexual assault often. Just because this show features former Disney faces, doesn't mean it's for that audience. 

Hopefully, upon watching the first episode any concerns that prospective viewers have about its sensationalized depiction of addiction and overdose will dissipate. While it's acceptable to show these heartbreaking real-life horrors, it's the way in which they are portrayed that is important.