The pilot of HBO’s Euphoria opens with a harrowing scene of a newborn baby being cradled in a hospital bed as disturbing images of the twin towers collapsing are broadcast on the television. Rue Bennet, played by Zendaya, consequently finds her childhood plagued by panic attacks and depression, eventually turning to drugs to cope as she internalizes the horrors she sees on the news. “This is the feeling I have been searching for my entire life for as long as I could remember.” Rue says about why she embraces her drug addiction, “Because suddenly, the world went quiet.”
Although the show has seen massive success in the United States, with 16 nominations at the upcoming Emmys this September including one for best drama series, it is actually based off of a lesser known Israeli show of the same name. The Israeli Euphoria or אופוריה first aired in 2012 on cable network, Hot 3. Similar to the American adaptation, head writer Ron Leshem and director Daphne Levin wanted to not only send the message that growing up is difficult, but rather that growing up in this specific time is especially severe. The Israeli pilot also mentions the 9/11 attacks: “When you were seven, people jumped from the Twin Towers on live television,” says the narrator, a teenage drug user named Hofit. “And it was repulsive and exciting, and logical. Parents have drowned their kids. Kids stabbed their parents. So, at the age of seven you got hooked on the news. And then you’re fed up with that. Because what could possibly shock you when you are eight?”
The Israeli Euphoria sets up the main formula that inspires the American version. A cast of teenagers are contending with the pain of the world around them and attempt to numb that pain through destructive habits; drugs, porn, meaningless sex and violence. The American show follows teenage drug addict Rue and an assortment of other high school characters as they struggle with trauma, self harm, drugs, sex, and difficult relationships. It’s not just a show about how growing up sucks, but rather as the pilot suggests by highlighting the 9/11 attacks, growing up particularly sucks right now. This is a theme that has appeared to connect with many young people. In fact, Twitter released data claiming that Euphoria is the most-tweeted show of the decade in the United States.
Despite the American show’s massive popularity, the Israeli version was not as well received. According to The Face, a British based culture magazine, it garnered mixed reviews with many people criticizing its abundance of violence and sex. Due to its adult content, it was given a very late time slot which most likely caused it to lose viewership.
Head writer Ron Leshem said in an interview with Série Series, a yearly festival dedicated to European creation, that he wanted to create a more realistic show that centers around teenagers. Most shows centered around young people are labeled as either comedies or teen dramas. “For my community as secular, liberal, urban 17 year olds, I was trying to explore what they were coping with and their emptiness they sometimes need to create and the idea, the basic idea was not to create realism, but to create emotional realism,” he said. “How do we create a world that reflects the wishes of the characters that live inside it?”
However, Leshem was not able to bring his exact vision to life in the Israeli version. Because of a lower budget, the Israeli version did not have enough funds to make the show as attractive to viewers. They did not have the resources to film the quick, shorter scenes Lesham wanted, knowing the longer scenes would have less appeal to the short attention spans of the younger generation.
Another reason the Israeli version does not have the same widespread popularity is its particularity to Israeli life, notably the trauma that comes with living in a country constantly in conflict. The opening episode embraces this particular trauma, showing kids ignoring the Yom HaZikaron siren, a moment of silence dedicated to fallen soldiers. Later in the season, one character defects from the IDF (Israeli Defense Forces) highlighting the pressure of conscription through this character who abandons his enlistment and remains on the run from the government. Another character commits suicide becuase he does not want to enlist. Currently the show is not available on streaming platforms and can only be watched in Hebrew. However, specific cultural nuances distance the show from mainstream audiences.
Despite the Israeli show’s limited success, its presence is still relevant in the HBO version’s widespread acclaim. Ron Leshem serves as executive producer for the American version, bringing his original ideas and visions to this new iteration. As HBO’s Euphoria continues to receive recognition and acclaim this Emmys season, it is fascinating to take a look back at the Israeli show that started it all.