The programmers at HBO pride themselves in setting the tone for the rest of television, especially when it comes to the absence of taste, from Bill Maher's "Real Time" talk-show tantrums to Lena Dunham marching around undressed on "Girls."
Every time HBO hits the bottom of the gutter, it finds a way to go deeper still. It is really headed into the gutter, and it knows it.
A new HBO series about teenagers and sex and drugs called "Euphoria" is starting June 16, starring 22-year-old Zendaya, another former Disney Channel star desperately seeking to keep her career alive in the eyes of Hollywood casting agents and limiting herself to one name in the pursuit of that.
The show's creator, Sam Levinson, gleefully predicted to The Hollywood Reporter, "There are going to be parents who are going to be totally f—-ing freaked out."
This is how The Hollywood Reporter began its story: "Thirty penises in one episode? Zendaya's new series, filled with graphic nudity, violence and drug use among young people, is so extreme that one star quit mid-shoot, but the network hopes that authenticity will help the show break through."
Ah, "authenticity." That's the word HBO uses when it makes a wildly over-the-top series. Levinson claimed the point of the show is to "expose an adult audience to the challenges of growing up in 2019," and that many of the scenes come directly from Levinson's life. "It may seem boundary-pushing, and the idea of putting them on TV may be, but somebody lived them." Levinson, born in 1985, is the son of top Tinseltown filmmaker Barry Levinson.
Many "somebodies" have navigated through dramatically sinful lives, but that doesn't mean they're all going to be exploited by HBO. If the company just loves "authenticity" for its own sake, can we expect it to run "Gosnell" on its channels, or "Unplanned"? Or is the authentic ugliness of the abortion industry just too tawdry?
Casey Bloys, HBO programming president, claimed the show is "not sensational to be sensational." There is zero authenticity in that claim.
Levinson says HBO executives have been supportive, but they did push back on two scenes. He wanted to start the whole series with a camera shot focusing on the birth of Zendaya's character that came from "behind a doctor and went straight between her mother's legs and into her vagina," the Reporter says. In the actual version, her character narrates over a clip of herself in utero, saying, "I was repeatedly crushed over and over by the cruel cervix of my mother."
The network also protested a scene in the second episode featuring dozens of naked high school boys. How responsible. "What made it to air is a trimmed-down version of the original shot, which included 'like, 80 more' penises," the Reporter says. It never ceases to amaze that HBO is now the first destination for new "Sesame Street" programming. The executives cravenly cashed in.
Parents Television Council President Tim Winter made the most salient point to the Hollywood Reporter. This show "appears to be overtly, intentionally marketing extremely graphic adult content — sex, violence, profanity and drug use — to teens and preteens."
HBO makes its way into millions of American homes, and not just on the television anymore. Children can easily stream a perverted show like this on their laptops or iPads or even cellphones. Parents should be alerted that this smutty show will be bubbling up from the bottom of the sewer.
Until HBO goes deeper still.
(L. Brent Bozell III is the president of the Media Research Center. Tim Graham is director of media analysis at the Media Research Center and executive editor of the blog NewsBusters.org.)