HBO’s “The Idol” unnecessarily pushes the envelope with toxic relationships and nudity

By Riley Dauber

Opinion Editor

During the summer of 2022, HBO released the first teaser trailer for their new limited series “The Idol.” Created by Sam Levinson of “Euphoria” and Abel “The Weeknd” Tesfaye, the show’s trailer boasts of “the sleaziest love story in all of Hollywood…from the sick and twisted mind” of its creators.

Right off the bat, the trailers’ dramatics are sure to raise a few eyebrows. Not only is it full of half-naked women and an absurd amount of drug use, but a woman’s voice in the trailer keeps saying “More! More! More!” highlighting the fact that the show simply wants to push the envelope and go in as many dangerous and insane directions as possible.

However, the show was already filled to the brim with controversy. According to Deadline, the series’ original director, Amy Seimetz, left the project in April 2022. Her departure led to a complete overhaul of the show, including bringing Levinson on as a director.

More information was recently shared in March 2023 via a Rolling Stone article, which says that once Levinson “took over as director, [he] scrapped ‘the nearly-finished $54-75 million project,’ and reshot it all. Sources tell the outlet he dialed up the ‘disturbing sexual content and nudity,’” according to The Week.

“The Idol” follows a young pop star named Jocelyn, played by Lily-Rose Depp, who starts dating a self-help guru turned cult leader, played by Tesfaye. Before changing directors, Tesfaye reportedly did not approve of the focus on Depp’s character.

According to Deadline, “Tesfaye…felt the show was leaning too much into a ‘female perspective,’ according to sources, with co-star Lily Rose Depp’s character rather than his own.”

Reports say that with Levinson as director, the initial focus on Depp’s character, that Tesfaye supposedly criticized, has shifted. According to The Week, “‘It was a show about a woman who was finding herself sexually, turned into a show about a man who gets to abuse this woman and she loves it.’”

Many social media users were critical of this announcement. “The most mediocre, messy, wasteful screenwriter in Hollywood. I’m tired of these stories. Give that budget to someone who deserves it,” Twitter user @bb_hay said.

Levinson had his fair share of controversies in the past thanks to his HBO series “Euphoria.” The show, which follows a group of high schoolers struggling with issues like drug addiction and sexuality, has faced criticism due to its overabundance of nudity. While all of the actors in the series are of age, they are playing teen characters who are frequently put in sexual positions for viewers to see.

Nudity in the media, especially in fictional television shows, should have a purpose. Although some may argue that “sex sells,” the amount of sexual content and nudity in Levinson’s prior work is not only glamorized, but gratuitous. It feels wrong to watch a bunch of underage characters engaging in sexual activities on “Euphoria,” especially because the show has a large teenage audience.

Levinson is prone to include numerous scenes of nudity in his work in an effort to shock audiences and get people talking, and it seems “The Idol” is following in “Euphoria’s” footsteps in terms of sexual content.

The issue with “The Idol” seems to be stemming from not only the change in directors, but also the story being told. It is disgusting to hear from The Week that Depp’s character “loves” to be abused, and that the show will no longer focus on her backstory and her reason for dating Tesfaye’s character.

It is a tired and problematic decision to instead focus the story on Tesfaye’s character and the power he holds in Hollywood, considering the recent #MeToo movement and the stories produced recently.

According to iNews, “Having someone as respected and culturally cool as The Weeknd play an abusive, powerful cult leader is one thing, but to tell the story from his perspective, rather than that of his victims feels like a leap backwards for a post-#MeToo world.”

Additionally, the rumored amount of sexual content in the series most likely does not need to be present, judging by Levinson’s track record.

According to Twitter user @FilmUpdates, “[Levinson] reportedly increased ‘the sexual content and nudity to surpass that of ‘Euphoria.’”

These stories do not need to be told. Arguably, Levinson is more interested in pushing the envelope and seeing how much sexual content he can put on television to spark a conversation. “The Idol” was full of promise during its initial announcement in 2021, and the original idea of a young woman attempting to enter the music industry would have made for an interesting story, especially when helmed by a female director and starring an up-and-comer like Depp. However, it seems the series’ origins are being overlooked by a controlling director and Tesfaye’s disapproval of a “female-focused” storyline.

While this controversy is sure to raise concerns about “The Idol’s” future and success, it cannot be denied that all this public attention will benefit the series in some way. As The Week says, Olivia Wilde’s film “Don’t Worry Darling” was riddled with dating rumors and production concerns, which surely led many viewers traipsing to the theater to see the spectacle.

Unfortunately, even if “The Idol” suffers from its change in directors, gratuitous sexual content, and shift in perspective upon its release, viewers will still tune in.

Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Photo Caption:Singer The Weeknd is the co-creator and star of HBO’s upcoming series “The Idol.”

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