The infamy of “The Idol” began in April 2022 after director Amy Seimetz departed the project, and you can read /Film’s contemporary reporting on the planned “overhaul” here. Levinson ultimately directed all five episodes of “The Idol” himself. Per interviews from Rolling Stone with production members published in March 2023, Seimetz came into the project set up to lose; she had constantly reworked scripts, a network keeping its financial belt tight, and a timeline crunch. Initially hands-off, Levinson took a more and more active part in the production after Seimetz departed, eventually reworking “The Idol” from the ground up.
Reportedly, Seimetz’s work on “The Idol” was 80 percent complete when she departed and cost closer to $75 million than the intended $54 million. Even so, Levinson chose to scrap this footage (Rolling Stone reported that the budget for these reshoots is unknown). Apparently agreeing with Tesfaye that the show leaned too much into a “female perspective,” Levinson offered a new vision that several of the crew did not appreciate; one went so far as to compare Levinson’s scripts to “torture porn.” From Rolling Stone:
“Four sources say that Levinson ultimately scrapped Seimetz’s approach to the story, making it less about a troubled starlet falling victim to a predatory industry figure and fighting to reclaim her own agency, and more of a degrading love story with a hollow message that some crew members describe as being offensive.”
Indeed, the show’s sleazy sexuality was one of the main objects of criticism; David Fear of Rolling Stone described the sex scenes as “softcore Skinemax outtakes with dialogue updated for 2023.” HBO still has a relationship with Levinson — “Euphoria” has been renewed for season 3 — but after the failure of “The Idol,” I wouldn’t be surprised if his leash gets tighter.
If you want to know if the critiques were well deserved, “The Idol” is streaming on Max.