Over the weekend, HBO dropped the trailer to Sam Levinson’s new show The Idol, starring pop icon The Weeknd (Abel Tesfaye, if you’d rather) and Lily-Rose Depp. The NSFW trailer is available elsewhere but you can just imagine an Instagram reel of teens behaving badly and get the general gist. Deadline reports that show “follows a female pop singer who starts a romance with an enigmatic L.A. club owner turned secret cult leader,” so it’s one of those shows. If you’re familiar with “the sick and twisted mind” (HBO’s words) of Levinson’s work on Euphoria, you know that while he does have a good instinct for drama, he also is keenly interested in getting his young stars out of their clothes for the camera at every opportunity. Based on our early look at The Idol, it looks like that interest has not abated. And that’s just one red flag.
Nudity on Euphoria has been a subject of some debate, with both series breakout Sydney Sweeney and guest star Minka Kelly saying they had to push back on how many nude scenes Levinson wrote (both Sweeney and Kelly said Levinson was receptive to their feedback). We don’t yet know the extent of mature content on The Idol, but early rumors do provide another red flag.
In April of this year, director Amy Seimetz and actor Suzanna Son both departed the production. Deadline reports that the Weeknd, who co-wrote the show, was unhappy with the direction the series had taken, with sources saying it was leaning too far into a “female perspective.” That could mean a lot of things, but taken with everything else we can tell about The Idol, it’s not exactly a great sign.
At its best, Euphoria is a genuinely haunting portrait of addiction with occasional moments of triumph, acceptance and grace that can be extraordinarily rewarding for viewers. But those moments often feel like the exception to the norm of an exploitive male gaze and the hypersexualization of his cast. Levinson isn’t without skill as a filmmaker, but his best work is unlocked when he resists his impulse towards lurid objectification. And maybe The Idol will go there. But right now, there are a lot of red flags.