Euphoria (4 stars)


A stately pace lets the pain breathe in this Emmy winning drama's return

When Zendaya won the Best Actress Emmy in September, she became, at 24, the youngest ever winner of that prize. As Euphoria's drug-addicted and relationship-troubled teen Rue, she returns in this first of two 'festive' specials which offer a different side to a drama that flew by at dizzying speeds. Fans who were addicted to the first season's high-wire antics might be bumped sideways by a more luxurious pacing with this new 55-minute episode, but the series' theatrical two-hander is a thing of raw excellence all of its own.

It starts off in reasonably familiar territory with Rue larking around in bed with Jules, who left her lover stranded at the climax of season one. After this scene of a memory or slice of wish-fulfilment, it moves to Rue's nose at the end of a rolled-up dollar bill before entering a diner where she meets her sponsor Ali (Colman Domingo). For the best part of an hour, they simply talk and talk about the future and the past, life and death, the draining power of addiction and the possible redemptive nature of sobriety. He scorns her for youthful arrogance and bigs her up for being more than the 'piece of shit' she repeats like a mantra. Both have done terrible things in their lives to date, his experience and ability to keep his bad past at bay a sign to her that not all is lost, despite her protestations.

Wordy and worthy, it occasionally flirts with getting tangled up in its own self-importance, but two blistering performances from the young prize-winner and her more veteran sidekick keep elevating the piece. When they're not talking, they do so much with their faces, pain furrowed on brows, and worry etched in sorrowful eyes. The ending is a mere full stop to many more conversations they would most likely continue to have, with Labrinth's version of 'Ava Maria', both mournful and uplifting, accompanying their silent drive home.

Available now on NOW TV; Sky Atlantic, Monday 7 December, 9pm.