The Idol’s toxic set revelations: How long until Sam Levinson’s career crashes and burns? – Screen Shot
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The Idol’s toxic set revelations: How long until Sam Levinson’s career crashes and burns?

At the end of 2021, as we patiently waited and lingered in excitement for the makeup, plot lines and soundtrack of Euphoria season two to be released, controversial filmmaker Sam Levinson gifted the gemstone-wearing gen Zers of the world with news of another upcoming TV show—one that was set to be his most daring project yet. And, for good measure, he put two of the internet’s favourite stars at the forefront: notorious nepo baby Lily-Rose Depp, and musician Abel Tesfaye, aka The Weeknd.

The Idol, marketed as HBO’s hot and sleazy take on troubled popstars, cult leaders, and female sexuality, has been filling our timelines for over a year now. And, while it was due to be a devastatingly raw exposé on the female perspective, and more specifically on how young women within the music industry have been historically corrupted and used by male figures who take advantage of their success, it’s now become an online case study in on-set turmoil, impulsive directors, and it’s shone a seemingly negative light on Levinson himself.

On 1 March 2023, Rolling Stone released an article titled: ‘The Idol’: How HBO’s Next ‘Euphoria’ Became Twisted ‘Torture Porn’. Within the piece, the publication stated that 13 sources from within The Idol’s production had come forward with stories of hellish reshooting and a toxic work culture.

One former crew member even noted: “What I signed up for was a dark satire of fame and the fame model in the 21st century. The things that we subject our talent and stars to, the forces that put people in the spotlight and how that can be manipulated in the post-Trump world. It went from satire to the thing it was [satirising].”

Supposedly, the chaos first began to unfurl when director Amy Seimetz departed from the project. Levinson allegedly then took over at the helm—or, more likely, snatched it back—and regeared the show’s plot, placing an emphasis more on how much nudity he could capture, rather than how culturally impactful the script could be.

Ramping up the depravity of the characters, allegedly in an attempt to top the sex scenes in his previous project Euphoria, Levinson clearly created an on-set environment so hostile and uncomfortable that crew members felt it necessary to expose him.

For example, a source revealed to Rolling Stone that one scene involved Tesfaye’s character violently punching Depp’s character in the face, after which she smiles and asks to hit her some more, thus provoking an erection from her aggressor.

Levinson has been heavily criticised in the past for sexualising aggression in a way that’s non-conducive to the filming process. Not only would this particular scene make for a horrifically triggering and uncomfortable watch, it has zero purpose other than satisfying the creator’s highly perverted need for the domination and subjugation of women.

Depp, seemingly unfazed by the crew’s concerns and by the filming process, is solidly standing by Levinson, having released a statement saying: “Sam is, for so many reasons, the best director I have ever worked with. Never have I felt more supported or respected in a creative space, my input and opinions more valued. Working with Sam is a true collaboration in every way—it matters to him, more than anything, not only what his actors think about the work, but how we feel performing it.”

Sam Levinson’s career has been questionable for some time now

Is anyone truly surprised by these recent revelations? Levinson’s methods and chosen topics when it comes to filmmaking have always been highly questionable. When Euphoria first hit our screens, the creator was championed for being a ground-breaking and daring renegade. But as the mist dissipated, and as Levinson’s behind-the-scenes directions became more apparent, we all came to realise that perhaps he’s a lot more sinister than previously suspected.

In early 2022, in an interview with The Independent, Sydney Sweeney (who plays Cassie in Euphoria) stated that, while she was proud of the work she’d done on the HBO show, she felt as though there had been numerous time where she’d needed to request nudity be removed from the script. 

Moreover, co-star Chloe Cherry (who plays Faye) told The Daily Beast that Levinson had wanted to shoot a number of her opening scenes with her completely naked, something she didn’t feel was necessary.

There’s also a lot to be said about how Levinson treated actress Barbie Ferreira (Kat). In season one, Ferreira’s character represented a highly important character arc regarding body expression, sexuality and identity. However, fans were dismayed when they saw that Kat had all but been removed from season two entirely. Allegedly, the pair had feuded on-set and subsequently the creator omitted Kat from every major plot and subplot within the show. The red flags just keep piling up…

Levinson may not be the first filmmaker to fetishise the high school experience, but he’s definitely capitalised on building a show which takes complex and unique female characters only to subject them to abuse and trauma. The heinous love triangle of Maddie, Cassie and Natie in season two can attest to that.

There is one question that remains: Will Levinson’s muse Zendaya continue to associate herself with the now-tarnished creator? The Emmy-winning performance of the actress and her portrayal of drug addict Rue in Euphoria had previously been Levinson’s saving grace. Now, however, with The Idol in tatters and the feeding frenzy continuing to grow, it’ll be interesting to see if Zendaya, whose reputation has been squeaky clean throughout her career, will stick by Levinson or swim to safety.

Diagnosing the ‘Euphoria’ fever: Why do we fetishise the high school experience?

OMG, are you caught up with Euphoria? I’m willing to bet my knock-off Prada that’s not the first time you’ve been asked this question in the last few days. Back for a second season, HBO’s teen drama is saturating our timelines faster than you can say Omicron and has cemented itself as the latest must-watch TV show.

If you’ve seen it then perhaps you’ll understand why it is such a success. Euphoria’s vibrant characters, exhilarating storylines and intoxicatingly sexy aesthetic make the perfect recipe for a hit show among gen Z. But there’s a more complex reason why we love it so much, beyond the obvious production value.


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Euphoria belongs to that trite yet inevitably addictive canon of the ‘High School drama’. From Grease to Glee, for decades we haven’t been able to get enough of the stuff. But have you ever stopped to wonder why the lives of students are so fascinating to us? 

I’d argue it’s a matter of fantasy. Shows like Euphoria give us an embellished reflection of our high school years, showing us teenage life with adult freedoms.

This is plain to see in the recent ‘And why aren’t you in uniform?’ trend on TikTok. These videos see users dressed in casual hoodies and jeans, only to ‘remember they go to Euphoria High’ and reappear in a sexy I.AM.GIA two-piece and stripper pleasers. These exaggerated impersonations of the show’s fiercely iconic Maddy Perez (played by Alexa Demie) affectionately mock the notion of being allowed to wear the outfits to school that the Euphoria characters don so casually.


almost forgot 😖 #euphoria #highschool #rue

♬ And why arent you in uniform - No context Spongebob

maddy is the IT gurl #euphoria #euphoriaseason2 #rue #fyp

♬ And why arent you in uniform - No context Spongebob


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Don’t get me wrong, Euphoria’s audience acknowledges that the characters’ lifestyles are unrealistic—but that’s exactly the appeal. Maddy, Jules and Cassie are playing out our fantasies of looking our absolute best at a time in our lives when our self-consciousness is at its most crippling. Don’t even get me started on my girl Rue…

Alongside fashion, characters in our beloved high school dramas are shown to be as romantically preoccupied as some of us dreamt we were back in those hormone-charged years. Burgeoning sexuality has been a core theme of teen dramas since the 60s, with the likes of Rebel Without a Cause and, again, Grease celebrating the rise of youth culture and the rejection of pre-war sexual conservatism.

Angsty teenage years are defined by the desire to enjoy these mature freedoms. As was the case with Glee, Euphoria shows us teen characters performed by actors several years older and gorgeous. They wield the power we strived to possess in our teen years and we can’t help but admire them for it. The contrast of their cultivated style and allure with the green high school environment gives us the fantasy we unknowingly craved all along.

While Euphoria and similar shows are pedallers of dazzling fantasy, they are also vehicles of that oh-so-needed catharsis. At first, we might label the high school drama appeal as merely nostalgia; a rose-tinted reminiscence of the ‘best times of our lives’. But those formative years are often when we experience traumas that we carry with us for the rest of our lives.

As we shed the skin of prepubescence, the skin of adolescence beneath is raw and scar-prone. Watching these traumas happen to someone else in dramas creates enough distance to make the experience cathartic and almost purging. This is where fantasy comes into play.

Exaggeration and embellishment in these productions act as a cushion against the harsh truths we are revisiting. Watching Quinn Fabray get kicked out by her parents for getting pregnant in Glee is made somewhat easier when you’re singing along to Avril Lavigne’s ‘Keep Holding On’ minutes later.

Trivial problems feel like the end of the world when you’re a teenager, so serious problems are truly earth-shattering. Watching characters experience these emotions on-screen, among the glamour, validates the impact events had on us at the time. They also remind us that we still experience these same traumas in our adult lives, and although the sting of adolescence may be dimmed, we still relate to them all the same.

Take the most recent episode of Euphoria (season two, episode two), for example, where we see Kat struggling with self-loathing and body dysmorphia. Sadly, toxic body standards are a common issue, especially for cis-women, trans-women and genderqueer people at that age. Audiences relate to the memory of such feelings, but also because they are still dealing with similar events in their current age. The same goes for the depictions of abusive relationships, depression and drug addiction.

While for many of us our teen years were more popping oxytetracycline than OxyContin, addiction is a worrying possibility for us all, if not a reality. Teen dramas reflect our lives, past and present; they depict both the worrying realities and the dreaded possibilities.

Euphoria shows us who we wish we were at high school, and perhaps who we still wish we were now. Gloriously gritty and sexy fantasy is an addictive escapism, so it’s no wonder we tune in to the show each week. And why shouldn’t we? Teenage dreams dwell as long as teenage traumas.