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Thursday, May 19, 2022

Bleak as it is, Euphoria has made cult teen TV finally grow up | Rebecca Nicholson

Strange, isn’t it, in this era of horrors, that a once-in-a-generation, definitive TV show about teenagers is so unrelentingly bleak. In many ways, one can only hope that Euphoria is not definitive, because it makes being 17 look even less appealing than actually being 17 did.

Its characters are a painful mess of drugs, addictive behaviour and self-destruction. Were it not for the calibre of its performances, particularly from Zendaya as Rue, it would be borderline unwatchable. Her Disney-to-grit transformation is remarkable, and she anchors the series.

Viewers love it and the show has become staggeringly popular. Last week, Euphoria’s US channel, HBO, revealed that the series is its second-most watched programme since 2004, behind only the behemoth that was Game of Thrones. It almost doubled its audience with its second season, which recently ended, and has become the most tweeted-about show of the decade. It was so ubiquitous on social media that it became possible to follow the drama without watching it and arguably some of the many memes that sprang up around it were better written than the show itself.

Over to the more wobbly set side of TV and the Australian soap Neighbours finally confirmed it would end in the summer, after 37 years on air. It had been coming for some time, after Channel 5 dropped the show, leaving it with “no option” but to cease production.

I haven’t watched Neighbours for years, if not decades, and the outpouring of nostalgia for it is both sweet and of the Woolworth’s variety, that particular retrospective fondness for something few have paid much attention to for a long time. Inevitably, I thought of my own Neighbours era, in my late teens, when we gathered round the communal TV every lunchtime. That was teen TV, with a bit of late-era Buffy on the side; hardly harrowing, despite the trauma of the Karl/Izzy/Susan affair.

Now, more than ever, it is desperately easy to get sucked into a “we didn’t know we were born” mentality, but when I thought about the difference between what we consumed then and the options now, I couldn’t help but laugh. As an adult, I found this season of Euphoria to be too bleak for me. Perhaps I have aged out of it. But I can’t say for sure that it is not definitive and I wonder if its heaviness comes at a time when anything lighter would seem like a relic of the past.

James Joyce: what am I bid for a rare copy of Ulysses?

A statue of James Joyce in Earl Street, Dublin
A statue of James Joyce in Earl Street, Dublin. Photograph: Nando Machado/Alamy

In among the many celebrations taking place to mark the 100 years since James Joyce published Ulysses, and you could do worse than treating yourself to a glance at Virginia Woolf’s increasingly irate account of reading it, a sweet Ulysses-related story appeared on BBC News that felt like a celebration of its own.

A mysterious, beautifully bound edition of the novel, from 1936, was donated to the Tenovus charity shop in Cardiff and almost went on sale for £1. (There are few satisfactions greater in life than a charity shop find, a moment of joy that makes all of the duds worth it. For example, it was well worth buying a sleeping bag for dogs, even though dogs aren’t as keen on miniature sleeping bags as you’d think, in order to find a signed copy of the Duchess of Devonshire’s memoir Counting My Chickens.)

“Because I’m not sure on books I would have literally put this book out for £1,” said the charity shop’s manager, Carl Scott. But a colleague recognised it might be worth something and saved it from its £1 fate. It will go to auction in a couple of weeks, where it is expected to fetch more than £800 for Tenovus Cancer Care.

Pamela Anderson: now for the truth – ‘in her own words’

Pamela Anderson and Tommy Lee
Pamela Anderson and Tommy Lee: now for her side of the story. Photograph: Steve.Granitz/INACTIVE/WireImage

The small screen is overrun by adaptations of true stories, which are the new reboots in terms of television revealing the limits of its imagination. They all start with a disclaimer, explaining that they’re based on true events, but might, wink wink, have made some things up for the purposes of entertainment. The most queasy of the lot has been Pam & Tommy, dramatising the story of Pamela Anderson and Tommy Lee’s romance and the theft and leaking of their sex tape. It was widely pointed out that Anderson’s lack of involvement, and rumours about her lack of approval, made the whole thing seem particularly off, given that it was about a woman being violated in the first place. It didn’t help that the series seemed not to know what it was trying to say.

With mic-drop timing, Anderson has announced she will be telling her side of the story after all, just not in the form of a drama that features a talking penis. The star posted a handwritten note on Instagram, entitled My Life, in the form of a sort of declaration of independence. “Not a victim but a survivor and alive to tell the real story,” she wrote.

This will appear as a Netflix documentary, directed by Ryan White, who made The Keepers, a series about murder, child abuse and the Catholic church; Netflix says Anderson’s life will be recounted “in her own words this time”. It is only fair that she has the chance to reclaim her own experiences.

Rebecca Nicholson is an Observer columnist

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