Sam Levinson’s adaptation of the original Israeli TV series Euphoria has become one of HBO’s biggest hits in recent history.
Starring Zendaya and Hunter Schafer, the show revolves around the lives of Rue and Jules, two high school students who meet and fall in love.
The show’s episodic narratives are governed by the complexities of their lives and the harsh realities of their experiences, with a willingness to probe deep deep into the hearts of the people who surround Rue and Jules. Each one has a wholly realized backstory to explore.
Few TV series go to any real lengths when it comes to the devastating effects of drug addiction and the intimate nature of trans people, but Euphoria does—and it does so earnestly.
The collective performance of the actors and the fresh writing and direction result in some of the most diverse storytelling in TV history. Here’s our take on the best characters in HBO’s Euphoria and why they stand out as great characters.
7. Maddy Perez
How does one describe Maddy? She’s unforgiving, relentless, scheming, and hard to like at first glance—but at her core, she has a good heart. It’s unfortunate that she keeps it buried so deeply within her.
She’s a complex character: confident, alluring, but also acutely aware of what’s right and wrong. And that’s why she protects those who are close to her, even as she insults them while doing so.
Maddy’s journey through the series is linked to Nate and it mostly involves how she processes her feelings for him, as well as the way it all falls apart.
In Euphoria, Maddy is a constant. She never appears to have the kind of dramatic shifts that some of the other characters have, because despite being still young, she knows who she is.
6. Nate Jacobs
If there would ever be a poster boy for toxic masculinity, it would have to be Nate Jacobs. On the surface, he’s cool, handsome, and from a background that affords him a good lifestyle—but he’s struggling.
Nate isn’t a good person. He doesn’t care about the people whom he manipulates and hurts. It’s so stark that he comes off as someone who has zero empathy, to the point where he doesn’t feel human.
Looking past Nate’s unfeeling exterior, however, reveals that he’s just a boy haunted by his father and the messy sexual desires that he was exposed to from a young age. Nate’s murkiness was insightfully explored in more depth during Euphoria’s second season.
5. Lexi Howard
Lexi is Cassie’s little sister, and she has an appearance that isn’t conventionally seen as immediately “hot.” Lexi’s great tragedy is that she sees herself as inferior to Cassie. She knows that she’s smarter, but Cassie is “more beautiful” and therefore gets a pass that Lexi doesn’t.
Her play during the final episodes of season two shows us how Lexi sees the world, which is closer to reality than any of the others see it.
Lexi’s role in Euphoria is one of stability. She bears the weight of her sister’s insecurities and her mother’s chaotic personality while worrying about Rue’s addiction. What’s most impressive? Lexi doesn’t break, even when many older and wiser people would.
4. Cassie Howard
Cassie Howard is the kind of woman the ancient Greeks would have told stories about. She’s conventionally beautiful and has people who adore her without ever speaking to her.
However, Cassie is a ball of insecurities. She feels the absence of her drug-addicted father, struggles with an inferiority complex in being Lexi’s sister (since Lexi’s intellect will ensure a successful life), and she has a social reputation as a whore.
What makes Cassie a great character? On the surface, she’s a person who has everything anybody would want, but she’s a wreck. And after seeing Lexi’s play, she finally breaks and goes off on her sister for showing everybody such a raw image of Cassie’s life.
One look at Fezco and anyone would assume he’s “only” a drug dealer and nothing more. He comes off as the cliché of clichés: a high school dropout who needed money and turned to drugs for it.
But that isn’t the real Fezco. In the show’s second season, his life becomes much clearer for the audience, and we all see that he never had a real chance to be anything else.
He’s a ferocious human being when he needs to be, and he’s willing to remove people from his way, but Fezco also has a softer side that shows itself most when he interacts with Lexi and Rue.
He hates his life of being a drug dealer, but he understands that it’s all he has, and that makes him such a tragic character we can empathize with.
2. Rue Bennett
Zendaya’s leading character is the anchor of the series, and she makes for troublesome viewing. Why? Because she’s a person who’s in constant danger of killing herself—and if not that, then of ruining her relationships—all because of her drug addiction.
Her relationship with Jules is one that forms slowly but plays out too quickly, and that relationship defines who Rue is behind her facade. She’s capable of love and being better, but can’t control her worst impulses.
The awful things she’s done to those around her are reprehensible, but she’s always one sentence away from being likable, and that’s why she’s so compelling to watch. Rue struggles with the death of her father, but in truth, that’s only a tiny part of why she’s an addict.
1. Jules Vaughn
Jules is a once-in-a-generation TV character. She has a strong sense of self and possesses the ability to understand the complexities of others’ situations, but she’s unable to help Rue stay sober.
Jules blames herself as much as anybody for Rue’s continued drug abuse, and it’s doubly hard because she genuinely loves Rue.
Her own struggles are often brought out in her sexual desires, ones that present themselves in moments of high anxiety—moments when she needs to feel tactile human connection.
Jules’ journey through Euphoria is by far the most compelling: we see her need to be trans come from a young age, we see her way of dealing with pain, and her endless love for Rue (which is bound to end in disaster).