The Idol

For a music drama that is so sexually-charged, a new HBO series manages to reach fresh levels of tedium.

Is it meant to be erotic? Hypnotic?

Or just tedious?

Whatever you make of new HBO The Idol, it is likely to be polarising… from those mesmerised by its slow-mo, arty, scantily-clad descent into sex, drugs and rock & roll (or pop, at least) to those bored by insipid characters, lurching from scene to scene, groping one another like sexual playthings.

The Idol is co-created by Sam Levinson (Euphoria), Abel “The Weeknd” Tesfaye and Reza Fahim and centres around Joecelyn (Lily-Rose Depp), a sexy pop superstar recovering from a nervous breakdown and trying to reclaim her crown as America’s sexiest pop star.

But this is no American Idol or Glee. Heck, it’s not even Empire which was a satisfying portrait of a dysfunctional hip hop family. But then, neither is it trying to be.

At Jocelyn’s lavish mansion there are plenty of ‘yes men’ and women surrounding the young singer as she poses for a photo shoot, rehearses her next dance video and conducts an interview with a Vanity Fair journalist (Hari Nef).

They include her managers Chaim (Hank Azaria) and Destiny (Da’Vine Joy Randolph), record label executive Nikki (Jane Adams), creative manager Xander (Troye Sivan), publicist Benjamin (Dan Levy) and PA Leia (Rachel Sennott). They try to damage control a leaked photo which threatens to ruin her image right before a concert tour being staged by promoter Andrew (Eli Roth).

With a house full of ambitious, soulless industry types all chasing their own deadlines, the lost Jocelyn wanders from room to room not knowing whom to trust.

She will later reveal, “When you’re famous everyone lies to you…”

Within the opening scenes The Idol is already sexually charged, both in the poses Depp assumes for the photographer -there is a debate over a nudity rider- and in the gyrating and thrusting in the dance routine being choreographed in the back yard.

These include repeated slow-mo and close ups of body parts just to save you hitting pause on your remote for cheap thrills.

Publicist Benjamin assures, it is a “homage to Britney.”

When Jocelyn, Leia and Xander head to a local club the paps go crazy, while inside imposing manager Tedros (Abel Tesfaye) spots Jocelyn on the dance floor and demands a dance (over the microphone, no less).

High on life, or possibly substances, Jocelyn grants him his wish and the two get it on in the middle of the dance floor. It’s not clear what attraction Tedros holds, but no matter, before long the two have slipped into a back passage more comfortable…

When Jocelyn whispers sweet nothings about her frustration over her upcoming album, Tedros works his apparent charm.

“Pop music is like the ultimate Trojan horse. Get people to dance, get people to sing alone, say whatever you want. It’s power,” he insists.

“You have the best job in the world. You should be having way more fun.”

And guess who is the right dude to make it happen?

Next day Tedros will come calling for more horizontal dancing and domination as Jocelyn is swept under his spell.

Did we mention the auto-eroticism, the lacy porn wardrobe, the Basic Instint movie night or the response when Leia worries Tedros is “so rapey”?

“I kinda like that about him,” says Jocelyn. Riiiiight.

Amid all this questionable morality and soft-porn, the opening episode suffers from a boring execution.

Lily-Rose Depp is strong as Jocelyn, even if she is barely dressed for much of the opening episode, but Abel Tesfaye can’t match her range. It wasn’t clear enough why Jocelyn was so drawn to Tedros.

It’s all quite disappointing given the wasted opportunity that The Idol could have offered on the modern music machine.

Will that come later? Perhaps, if I am still around to see it.

The Idol screens 11am Mondays on FOX Showcase / Binge.

3 Responses

  1. Watched the first two eps and I actually think it’s damaging because it reinforces porn stereotypes – that women enjoy being choked, asphyxiated etc.
    There are some genuinely funny moments and Depp can definitely act, but it’s nowhere near the quality of shows like Euphoria.

  2. So torn with this show and I agree with much of your sentiments David. I love the intentions behind Sam Levinson in how he created discussions around modern teenage life in Euphoria and was hoping for a similarly much-needed discussions over the use of coercion on younger people, mainly women and girls. However, this show is most definitely a leering over-sexual show which lingers a bit too long on the most titillating moments – it’s as if Playboy and the tabloids collaborated on a show together. However, the cinematography is beautiful just like in Euphoria and the last scene made me feel incredibly anxious

  3. Ugh, it is just so try hard… I wrote my thoughts in the TV lounge for anyone interested. We think very similarly regarding this David. What is the attraction Joecelyn has to Tedros? It’s the central focus in the latter half of the episode and I’d imagine will be moving forward… so I would have liked far more reasoning on that. To me, The Weeknd is completely miscast as he just comes across as a complete and utter predatory creepo.

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