This time last year, the Internet was preparing itself for the long-awaited sophomore season of “Euphoria.” Season two dropped in January 2022 after complications from the pandemic left viewers waiting three years since the release of the first season. While there was speculation and excitement about what the second season would entail, no one was ready for the ruthless amount of unnecessary nudity that stained our screens.
Viewers were quick to notice that Sydney Sweeney’s (“The White Lotus”) character Cassie had more nude scenes than any other character and shared their concerns on social media platforms like Twitter and TikTok. One Tweet reads “now even jacob has said something about the nudity in euphoria, sam levinson you’re a sick man,” referring to actor Jacob Elordi (“The Kissing Booth”) who plays Nate Jacobs on the show, and the producer Sam Levinson (“Malcolm & Marie”). Another user comments that “i think euphoria would be a much more interesting show if it focused on exploring grief rather than on trying to portray the most extreme situations possible and show the most nudity on screen,” emphasizing that for many viewers, unnecessary nudity detracts from the show’s storyline more than it adds nuance.
It’s not just the superfluity of the nudity that is a problem, but also its relation to the context of the show. “Euphoria” paints a very unrealistic and dangerous image of sexuality for young people, who are watching a show that is supposed to revolve around a group of high schoolers. In the context of the show, these are underage kids engaging in excessive displays of sexuality, frequently underscored with violence. The simple nudity isn’t the issue, but rather how the excessive displays of nudity — especially those accentuated with abuse — promote a harmful depiction of hypersexuality for viewers and actors alike.
Though actors from “Euphoria” have spoken up in defense of Levinson and the show’s nudity, their comments are not always relieving: “There are moments where Cassie was supposed to be shirtless and I would tell Sam, ‘I don’t really think that’s necessary here.’ … When I didn’t want to do a nude scene, he didn’t make me,” Sweeney shared with The Independent. While it’s nice to know that Sweeney maintained some autonomy on set, it is distressing to learn that she was responsible for telling Levinson “no,” and a bit appalling to learn that the second season was originally going to have more nudity.
The nudity of “Euphoria” (for characters of all genders) was so excessive, it was more shocking to see an episode without any. While most fans didn’t hesitate to mock the show or critique Levinson for the superfluous nudity and sex scenes, others remained unfazed: “I understand the argument of Euphoria having too much nudity because they’re high schoolers in the show but at the same time its like….is this the first and only HBO series you have watched?”
That Twitter user was correct: HBO is one of the biggest offenders in terms of needless nudity. For years, shows like “True Detective,” “Minx,” “Vinyl” and “True Blood” have exemplified the network’s taste for nakedness, and it isn’t necessarily a fluke that its top performing shows, “Game of Thrones” and “Euphoria,” respectively, also rank highly in the nudity department.
It was watching the fourth episode of HBO’s newest release, “House of the Dragon” (which claims HBO’s most-watched series premiere title) that prompted my reflections on nudity in television. Though thus far, the series has stayed true to original “GoT” lore — with respect to incestuous relationships and over-the-top violence — “HoD” has not yet matched its predecessors’ appreciation of nudism. While prior episodes in the season consist of brief brothel scenes, it isn’t until episode four that “HoD” attempts to make its parent show proud.
While I watched the episode with a fellow Daily Arts staffer, Swara Ramaswamy, we agreed that the sex scene shared between Rhaenyra (Milly Alcock, “Upright”) and Ser Criston Cole (Fabien Frankel, “The Serpent”) seemed to prioritize reality and thoughtfulness as opposed to gratuitous vulgarity. We thought that the director (Clare Kilner, “The Mosquito Coast”) and intimacy coordinator (Miriam Lucia, “The Nevers”) conducted a very tasteful scene between the actors, who purportedly spent seven months preparing for the moment. They worked tirelessly with the intimacy coordinators to not only deliver a realistic depiction of the awkwardness and vulnerability of sex, but also to ensure that the scene was sensitive and respectful of the actors. Is it a coincidence that the director of the episode is a woman? Perhaps not, if we are only to take the directors into consideration (Kilner herself has explained her “feminine approach” to the sex scene). It is deserving of some acknowledgment, nonetheless, that we tend to see the most nudity in television when shows and episodes are directed by men.
This conversation isn’t new. People have been speaking up about the excessive nudity in television for years now — not because we’re all prudes, but because of the increasingly obvious surplus of unnecessary televised nudity that, at best, detracts from the shows at hand, and, at worse, promotes dangerous entanglements of sex and violence. As seen in “House of the Dragon,” sex and nudity in television can be delivered skillfully and successfully; there is no excuse for overabundant nudity, especially when it encourages and exposes both actors and viewers to extreme and exorbitant portrayals of hypersexuality.
Managing Arts Editor Lillian Pearce can be reached at email@example.com.