Review: ‘The Idol’

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Boasting an impressive ensemble of talent including Lily-Rose Depp, Hank Azaria, Troye Sivan and, of course, The Weeknd, HBO’s The Idol was an ambitious and promising project that had every right to succeed.

The end result? Furiously frustrated fans and the imposing stamp of “worst TV show of the year” from The Telegraph.

Created and written by The Weeknd and Sam Levinson, The Idol follows struggling idol Jocelyn (Lily-Rose Depp) as she navigates the dark and glamorous setting of modern day Los Angeles in a desperate bid to revitalise her fading stardom. She becomes entangled in the perilous world of the entertainment industry and a thorny relationship with Tedros, a nightclub impresario turned cult leader, played by Canadian songwriter, The Weeknd.

Cursed with poor pacing and a weakly developed plot, the five episode drama eventually moved away from its promising focus and morphed into the shape of a glossy romanticisation of abuse. Amidst fearless depictions of auto-erotic asphyxiation and sadomasochism, The Idol is not at all timid with controversial subject matter and instead boldly plunges into them from the series’ very first scene. Indeed, what made The Idol vastly enjoyable at parts is its daring parody of some very dark and taboo subjects.

The first episode perfectly embodies this successful aspect of the show. It opens the series with a hilarious nightmare as Jocelyn and her entourage battle against industry barriers, mid-photoshoot, to include the idol’s nude body on her own album cover. The scene ends with Jocelyn’s manager Chaim holding the intimacy coordinator hostage in the bathroom for three hours and results in some of the most outrageously hilarious lines in the show:

“Uh, the robe, the hospital wristband,” Troye Sivan’s character comments incredulously, visibly anxious and hesitant over Jocelyn’s costume choices. “I mean, are, are we romanticising mental illness?”

The series became a glittering celebration of the issues that it initially aimed to criticise

This concern is immediately shot down by determined manager Nikki, who definitively declares that “Mental illness is sexy” and passionately beseeches Troye Sivan’s character to “stop trying to cockblock America.”

What made the scene so brilliant is how transparently it addresses the entertainment industry’s hypocrisy. It serves as a bold and scathing takedown of the industry’s promotion of the importance of mental well-being whilst, simultaneously, relentlessly exploiting its stars’ mental illnesses to rake in mass profit. While doused with a comedic tone, the scene carries a dark and critical overtone that completely rips into the industry and its twisted protocols.

However this satirical aspect, despite repeated affirmations by the series’ producers as the focal point of the series, quickly dissipates following the introduction of The Weeknd’s character, Tedros. As Jocelyn descends into a highly abusive and exploitative relationship with Tedros, who assures the restoration of her career, the promising focus of the series unfortunately morphed along with it.

And therein lies the souring shift that compromised The Idol. The series became a glittering celebration of the issues that it initially aimed to criticise. As a result, the series was plagued with some of the most awkward and depraved sex scenes between Lily-Rose Depp and The Weeknd in recent TV history.

‘The Idol’ very may well be the most expensive porno made in human history

Unlike what the series had accomplished so well in the first episode, the highly explicit sex scenes failed to address the abusive nature of Tedros and Jocelyn’s relationship despite this being its original intent. Instead, the frustrating misuse of its lustrous cinematography and sleek soundtrack inadvertently promoted the direct opposite. Moreover, Jocelyn’s revival in her career following her relationship with Tedros insinuated that her glorious renaissance is attributed to the extensive abuse she was victim to.

What separates the series from The Weeknd’s successful musical endeavours is the lack of contrast. Indeed, while the Torontonian songwriter’s smooth and harmonious vocals serve as the engine behind his songs, what ultimately comes to define the songs are his dark and unsettling lyrics. No matter how much one would like to focus on the melodic beauty of the singer’s voice, the experience is invariably and purposefully weighed down by the songs’ grisly and jarring undertones.

This cruel and masterfully executed juxtaposition is completely absent in The Idol. Hence, the series mangles itself into a confused glorification of what it set out to attack.

Though, there are some redeeming factors for The Idol. The series’ cinematographer Marcell Rév was able to create a highly stylised and nostalgic glare, defining a pioneering look that is remarkably distinctive from recent TV productions.

Despite its limited thematic substance, the artistic talent and performances featured in the series deserves recognition. Moreover, the series’ original soundtrack fared much better reviews and was able to push some new musical talents, such as Suzanna Son and Ramsey, to the forefront.

As a whole, The Idol is a sleek, well-produced series with high potential, but is unfortunately severely undermined by the lack of substance and excessive depictions of highly glorified abuse. Filmed primarily in The Weeknd’s personal $70 Million Bel-Air mansion, The Idol might very well be the most expensive porno made in human history.

Image: Krys Amon via Unsplash

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