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Television Controversial Euphoria is as lurid as advertised, and a great trip

Rue is a 17-year-old high-school junior who just got out out from a stint at rehab and returns to school.

HBO / Crave

Every now and then, along comes a TV series that attracts the shocked-and-appalled attention of right-wing conservatives in the United States. Often before it even airs. You can usually tell that controversy is being cooked up when coverage makes regular appearances on the online Drudge Report.

Euphoria (starts Sunday, 10 p.m. Crave/HBO) is one such show. Produced by Drake, created by Sam Levinson (writer of The Wizard Of Lies, which was directed by his dad, Barry Levinson) and based on an Israeli series, Euphoria might be called HBO’s first attempt at a teen drama. But it’s being called “toxic” and “grossly inappropriate,” too. In news stories, it is noted that one episode features 30 penises. It is made to sound lurid and shocking.

It is neither. Yes, it’s soaked in sex and drugs as advertised. But unless you’re stunned by the news that teenagers indulge in drugs, casual sex and have expert knowledge of porn, it isn’t so shocking at all. In fact, it is a gorgeously made, rather bleak but sensitive portrait of a particular generation. On the evidence of the first four episodes, be not afraid of it. The series takes the view that teenagers stumble through the arenas of getting high, having sex and dealing with peer pressure and depression as though their parents didn’t exist. Who would be shocked by that? Besides, it’s engrossing, serious-minded adult storytelling.

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Jules, left, is a transgender teen who becomes friends with Rue.

HBO / Crave

Mainly, it’s about Rue (Disney Channel star and singer Zendaya, who is fabulously good), a 17-year-old high-school junior who, when we meet her, is out from a stint at rehab and back at school. The thing about Rue is that, as she says in a coolly deadpan voice-over, “I had no intention of saying clean.” One day back and she’s scoring drugs from a kid who is even younger than her and appears to be running a drug empire. Rue fills us in about herself. Born three days after 9/11, she was eventually diagnosed with attention-deficit disorder, anxiety and is probably bipolar. She doesn’t care. She figures some of it might be true, some of it lies. The anxiety she pleads to. But she lies, too, a lot. Mainly, she’s interested in being high.

Her world teems with teenage girls like her. They’re not as obsessed with drugs but they are obsessed with their bodes, boyfriends and zoning out. They’re all anxious, sarcastic and some are as full of self-loathing as Rue is usually full of some drug or other.

Early on, there is a scene typical of teen TV dramas and movies. A local boy throws a house party. A bullying jock, Nate (Jacob Elordi), has a temper-tantrum when his ex has sex with another guy in the pool. He takes his rage out randomly, on Jules (Hunter Schafer), a young woman nobody knows, and she turns stunningly violent in response. What the other characters don’t realize and the viewer does, is that Jules is a transgender teen who has just come from motel-room sex with a stranger, a much older man. Jules and Rue become fast friends.

The series has a loose structure, entering and exiting storylines, but it always returns to the story of Rue.

HBO / Crave

What follows is a mind-bending journey for both. And literally mind-bending for the viewer as the show depicts visually the strung-out state that Rue often occupies. She likes fast-acting psychedelic drugs. The series has a loose, drugged-out structure, entering and exiting storylines. There’s a lot of stuff about porn. But it always returns to the eerily painful and utterly gripping story of Rue.

Also airing this weekend

Goalie (Saturday, CBC, 9 p.m.) is an excellent, poetic and sometimes forlorn biopic of NHL legend Terry Sawchuk. Directed by Adriana Maggs, and written by her sister Jane, it is loosely based on Night Work: The Sawchuk Poems, written by her father, Randall Maggs. Highly recommend for an original approach to the story of Sawchuk (Mark O’Brien) from flashes of his childhood to his death in a drink-fuelled fight at the age of 40.

The Good Fight (Sunday, CBS, 9 p.m.) brings the spin-off from The Good Wife to CBS’s main network after airing on its streaming channel. It opens with the first two episodes. Diane Lockhart (Christine Baranski), at the pinnacle of her career, is in financial ruin just as the Trump inauguration unfolds. The most anti-Trump series of all, it has a crazy energy but it remains to be seen how much will be stripped from the rather manic streaming version.

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