The Weeknd's 'The Idol' Crew Claim HBO Series Devolved into "Torture Porn" Amid Chaotic Production

"It was like the Weeknd wanted one show that was all about him — ['Euphoria' director] Sam [Levinson] was on board with that"

BY Megan LaPierrePublished Mar 1, 2023

If you feel like it's been a minute since you've heard anything about the Weeknd's HBO series The Idol, you're right. The most recent teaser for the show — where Lily-Rose Depp plays an aspiring pop star and the artist born Abel Tesfaye portrays her cult-leader producer — was released back in October, following our first peeks into Tesfaye's self-stylized sick and twisted mind (which he shares with his co-creator, Euphoria director Sam Levinson) last summer. It's pretty much been radio silence since.

According to a new report from Rolling Stone, the network had initially hoped for The Idol to premiere last fall and take over the House of the Dragon's Sunday time slot. But production sources told the publication that now even they're not sure when the show will air, and know little about what to expect from the final version after numerous delays, rewrites and reshoots. That's reportedly due to Levinson taking over as director and scrapping the almost-complete project (worth an estimated $54 to 75 million USD) to redo the whole thing and turn it into "torture porn."

UPDATE (3/1, 4:05 p.m. ET): HBO's representatives have issued a statement to various publications (including BuzzFeed and The Wrap), admitting that initial production on The Idol did not meet the network's "standards" but doubled down on care having been taken to create a "safe" working environment under Levinson's reign.

They wrote:

The creators and producers of The Idol have been working hard to create one of HBO's most exciting and provocative original programs. The initial approach on the show and production of the early episodes, unfortunately, did not meet HBO standards so we chose to make a change. Throughout the process, the creative team has been committed to creating a safe, collaborative, and mutually respectful working environment, and last year, the team made creative changes they felt were in the best interest of both the production and the cast and crew. We look forward to sharing The Idol with audiences soon.

UPDATE (3/1, 4:55 p.m. ET): The Weeknd has also responded to the Rolling Stone report, posting what appears to be an excerpt from the series that sees his and Depp's characters talking trash about the publication alongside the caption "[Rolling Stone,] did we upset you?"

See the post below. 


A post shared by The Weeknd (@theweeknd)

Last April, The Idol's original director Amy Seimetz (The Girlfriend Experience, She Dies Tomorrow) made a sudden exit from the show after 80 percent of the six-episode arc was finished. Red Rocket star Suzanna Son also left the production at the same time.

HBO confirmed that the series would have a "major creative overhaul," but gave no reason for the shakeup. Around that time, it was reported that Tesfaye felt The Idol was heading into too much of a "female perspective." One source said, "It was like the Weeknd wanted one show that was all about him — Sam was on board with that."

Another of the 13 cast and crew members that spoke to Rolling Stone claimed that Levinson's scripts increasingly lost the original plot of the satirization of the 21st century fame model in an attempt to replicate his sex-heavy Euphoria success formula. Apparently, it stopped being about a troubled starlet's fight to reclaim her agency after falling victim to an industry predator and instead twisted itself into a "degrading love story with a hollow message," which some described to the outlet as "offensive."

"It was like any rape fantasy that any toxic man would have in the show — and then the woman comes back for more because it makes her music better," one source said. Another added, "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."

Multiple sources cited these rewrites as a major concern, although more than one with knowledge of the situation claim Tesfaye "barely touched" a script during Levinson's reshoots. The new scripts reportedly contained "disturbing sexual and physically violent" scenes between the two lead characters. "It was like, 'What is this? What am I reading here?'" said one of the sources. "It was like sexual torture porn."

"This was such a strong example of just how far [Levinson] can really push HBO and they will continue to cover [him] because he brings in money," another source claimed. "He's able to walk away unscathed and everybody still wants to work with him… People ignore the red flags and follow him regardless." 

News of the Weeknd-helmed series first broke back in 2021. A consistent stream of big-name stars — including Dan Levy, Hank Azaria, Moses SumneyTroye Sivan, Jane Adams, Mike DeanBlackpink's Jennie Kim, Tunde Adebimpe and the like (just not Britney Spears) — were added to the cast thereafter, making the hype for The Idol somewhat inescapable.

Now it seems like the "the sleaziest love story in all of Hollywood" might have gotten very lost on the way to the wrong kind of happy ending.

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