When ‘Euphoria’ wanted to turn Zendaya into a private detective: Why it’s so hard for teenage TV shows to grow up

The graduation of a fiction about a school is a key moment for its survival. Options include new generations of students and changes of scenery

Sydney Sweeney
Sydney Sweeney, in a scene from 'Euphoria.'
Eneko Ruiz Jiménez

The actors on the hit show Euphoria have achieved fame beyond the series, and as they get older, it’s increasingly unlikely they will be able to play 16-year-old characters. Zendaya, Sydney Sweeney, Jacob Elordi and Hunter Schafer are between 25 and 27, and Alexa Demie — the only Euphoria star not involved in a major Hollywood production — is over 33. If the stars returned to high school, they would look completely out of place. And as Euphoria was a realistic series, HBO has made it clear that the third season will take place in the future, when they are no longer in the classroom.

When it comes to teenage series, nearly everything has been tried to maintain interest in the characters, from the most surreal twists to the most clichéd decisions. The creator of Euphoria, Sam Levinson, proposed turning Zendaya’s character Rue into a private detective, according to The Hollywood Reporter. But even that wouldn’t be new. The character Veronica Mars, from the eponymous show, after dropping out of high school and then college, became an FBI agent in one series, and Betty, from Riverdale, became a police officer upon graduating.

In a more modern and perhaps more surprising suggestion, Zendaya proposed turning her character into a surrogate mother, taking her to another stage of her self-destruction. None of the ideas pleased the channel, so they have postponed filming, and the stars of Euphoria are working on other projects while they wait to see if the series survives and releases a third installment in 2025, three years after its last episode.

In the Spanish show Elite, the team did not think it would be successful enough to continue. The cast had a contract for three seasons. “Then we planned to follow the lives of the characters at university, in their first jobs or in their gap year. But we thought it would be more interesting to turn Las Encinas [the high school] into a nexus,” recalls one of the show’s creators, Carlos Montero: “Half of the cast also wanted to start new projects.”

The cast of 'Elite' in the first season.

With Saved by the Bell, the characters were moved to the fictional University of California. The scenery changed, but everything else stayed the same. In Boy Meets World, the students even moved in with the teacher, the iconic Mr. Feeny, testing the boundaries of plausibility even further.

But even with these moves, it’s not easy to recreate the magic of a hit show. Saved by the Bell: The College Years — which was more focused on romantic plots — only lasted 19 episodes. In addition to The College Years, there was also a reboot called Saved by the Bell: The Next Class, with new actors playing the students and the cast from the original returning to play characters in their 40s. It also had the same teachers, as well as the charismatic Screech. Today, little is remembered of the show, even though it ran for 143 episodes, until it ended in 2000.

The original cast of 'Saved by the Bell.'
The original cast of 'Saved by the Bell.'

In Elite, new actors were gradually introduced in the show, a process that has been repeated on several occasions: “The challenge was for the new actors to enter making an impact, but not overshadowing those who remained. You keep those who want to stay, although it was also the case that we felt that some of them were not giving more of themselves,” says Montero. “When you have two seasons ahead of you, and they are in their last year, you start slowing down the months. It works to a certain extent.”

For Montero, it’s almost impossible for the same formula to work twice. “How do we keep the essence in other characters? Do we keep it or evolve it? Will we get it right with the new ones? Will it sound repetitive or too different?” he says, about the discussions at the script table.

Glee even taped a reality show to cast its new generation, but they couldn’t recreate the same charisma, and the producers realized it as the season progressed. The high school, which also included a veteran from the original, disappeared as its stars Lea Michele and Chris Colfer took on Broadway, where they performed with Shirley MacLaine, Whoopi Goldberg, Sarah Jessica Parker and Kate Hudson. Glee also had to deal with the death of one of its star graduates, Cory Monteith. Euphoria is dealing with a similar tragedy, after actor Angus Cloud died between seasons.

In one of the most surprising graduations in television history, Archie left Riverdale High School with his classmates. Then, from one episode to the next, the series jumps forward seven years in time, when the most iconic young man in American popular culture returns from the war. This change transformed the series from being a story about a high school and the evil lurking there, to a series about parallel realities, witches, time travel to the 1950s and resurrecting the dead. In television, there are few decisions as risky as leaving school.

So after Elite, does Montero have any suggestions for Euphoria? “The good thing is that the last thing the creators and scriptwriters of Euphoria need is my advice,” jokes Montero, now an expert in teenage reinventions.

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