Streaming services, cable TV and Primetime television are fighting for your viewership now more than ever. UnBinged is here to help you weed through it all, with reviews of the latest shows that highlight what we love, what we hate and what we love to hate-watch, too.
This week we take a gander at a few series’ with unusual leading ladies– from thrillers to high-end dramas to dopey comedies. Should you get stung by Yellowjackets, fall into the brutal bliss of Euphoria or say bonjour to Emily in Paris? Read on to find out.
Euphoria (Season 2) / HBO
After a lengthy wait, Euphoria has finally returned to HBO for its second season, aiming to dismantle everything we know about teen dramas and shattering TV tropes along the way. The subject matter might be harsh and the topics might not create the kind of conversation that usually surrounds event programming, but that doesn’t make it any less than one of the best shows on television today, thanks to the efforts of its leading lady and now executive producer Zendaya.
Shepherded by Sam Levinson (son of Barry) and rapper Drake, and featuring one of the most talented casts assembled in front of a camera, Euphoria paints a picture of a modern-day teenage wasteland. The audience follows the ensemble as they make one horrible decision after another, attempting to live what might seem like their best lives amidst the folly of youth.
At the center of the chaos is Zendaya’s Rue Bennett. Both a central figure in the series and the omniscient –sometimes unreliable– narrator, Zendaya uses her abundant acting talents to elevate Rue beyond the caricature of an addled addict whose heartbreaking history leads to self destruction.
Season two starts off with a focus on drug dealer Fezco (Angus Gold) and his childhood, which features a badass dealing grandma who taught him everything he knows. From the minute Billy Swan’s cover of “Don’t Be Cruel” kicks in, audiences are treated to a backstory that pulls more from Scorsese than Degrassi. This sets the tone for a cinematic experience divided into bite-size episodes. It also helps that the show’s striking cinematography makes Euphoria look comparable to any big screen effort.
After two stand alone episodes last year during the height of the pandemic powerfully explored Rue’s substance abuse and her bestie Jules’ (Hunter Schafer) own challenges as a transgender young woman, the second season continues where season one left off. A relapsed Rue reconnects with her heart’s desire, Jules, who fled to New York due to a terrifying set up by toxic teen dream Nate (Jacob Elordi), but has returned. The two are back together, but Rue’s old habit and new friends are becoming problems. Also returning are pseudo-sociopath Maddie (Alexa Demie) and the broken Cassie (Sydney Sweeney), whose fragile friendship looks to crumble thanks to the aforementioned Nate. Throw in Gold’s well-meaning drug dealer and insecure good girls on the outside looking in (Maude Apatow and Barbie Ferreira), and you have a dynamic cast that’s hard to turn away from.
Though many shows try to capture the dark essence of Generation Z, nothing does it as raw and shamelessly as Euphoria. Most focus on shallow teen culture consumed by TikTok and endlessly chasing sex, but this show attempts to artfully portray troubled teens for who they are: no different than any prior generation. They’re just as lost and just as confused, but with better makeup and gadgets.
Filled with exceptionally-written characters who thrive in the gray area between bad and good (a running theme this season), the show remains fluid in tone, shifting from dark comedy to dangerous tragedy within a single, well-directed moment. The camera stalks each character, often during scenes meant to make younger audiences relate and older ones recoil. Thanks to the immense talent both behind and in front of the camera, Euphoria creates a world that is difficult to forget and impossible to ignore, for both.
Yellowjackets / Showtime
Adrift in a wave of young adult dramas currently flooding streaming and cable TV, Showtime’s Yellowjackets might be easy to miss, but if you’re looking for something completely different, it’s a barbaric breath of fresh air, dark and twisted with delicious performances from both its adult cast and their teen counterparts.
Right off the bat, the audience is given an intriguing premise. Set in both the present day and the mid-1990s, the show follows a girls championship soccer team whose plane crashes in the wilderness. As teens, we learn how they survived, and as adults, we learn how they hid the secret of their survival.
The two versions of the cast play magnificently off each other in this gender-flipped Lord of the Flies. Survivors include the strong Shauna (Sophie Nélisse/Melanie Lynskey), wild Natalie (Sophie Thatcher/Juliette Lewis), determined Taissa (Jasmin Savoy Brown/Tawny Cypress) and stage five clinger Misty (Samantha Hanratty/Christina Ricci). A blackmail scheme and prying reporters who just won’t let sleeping dogs lie –or die– are part of the narrative unraveling.
It deserves to be said that the masterminds behind the casting of this thriller (Libby Goldstein and Junie Lowry-Johnson, according to IMDb) are fucking geniuses. The adult counterparts are matched perfectly in tone and likeness to their mini-me’s. The volley between the two casts, and their complementary performances, adds to the story and character arcs as we witness what enhances the already compelling and merciless story.
Yellowjackets is a twisted treat for people who seek out the dark side of streaming. It’s completely original and thoroughly deranged in all the right ways. For folks who enjoy a little shock and awe with their female-led dramas, suit up. Yellowjackets has a hell of a sting.
Emily In Paris (Season 2) / Netflix
Hit series Emily in Paris returned to Netflix just in time for its Golden Globe controversy of 2021 to die down and for a few new controversies to pick up steam. Though the show is problematic in many ways, it shouldn’t be completely overlooked.
In this second season, we once again follow marketing exec Emily Cooper (Lily Collins) as she falls in love, demolishes friendships, screws up at work, destroys the French language and leaves a path of destruction in her wake about a mile long. The real problem with the show isn’t with Emily, but the writing, which is uneven at best. The occasional sharp and witty one-liners are lost among the try-hard dialogue, which results in uneven characters and scenes marred by clunky storytelling.
There are many, many times in which the viewer may wish to clobber Emily with an empty champagne bottle until she stops doing stupid shit. Still, the show is not without its appeal, mostly thanks to the talents of Collins. She has some great work behind her and she’s clearly above this dreck, but her commitment to the material (she’s a co-producer) sells every hokey line. No matter how chipper and likeable she might be, Emily isn’t a character you can get behind. She’s a train wreck in clothing she can’t possibly afford (the true mark of any Darren Star series), but she is still delightful as hell.
Emily in Paris is pure cotton candy. Simple, sweet fluff that sits somewhere between the TGIF sitcoms of yesteryear and Freeform’s dystopian dramas featuring teenagers. The writing might be silly, but it has a foolish charm that can make it an entertaining escape. Sometimes you can just enjoy a dumb series for what it is: a lovely little distraction from the less glamorous trials of real life. This is one of those.