Photo by Eddy Chen/HBO.
Disclaimer: This review analyzes “The Idol” explicit content and contains explicit language.
Every generation or so, there arises from the gurgling depths of the burning pits of Hollywood a production so bad, so viscerally awful to nearly every degree, that it becomes a footnote in the toilet bowl of American pop culture.
“Showgirls” (1995), “The Happening” (2008), Catwoman (2004), “Death Note” (2017) and “The Room” (2003). These films share the unfortunate reputation of being some of the absolute worst that Hollywood has to offer.
Nonetheless, they are an essential cornerstone of our culture. Not only do they serve as excellent sources of drinking games, but they act as the representatives of the underdeveloped end of our cultural spectrum. A place that all of us can rise above and use as a reference on what not to do in the pursuit of creativity.
I am excited to report that I have found the cultural diaper stain that will help define this decade.
“The Idol” is an HBO original, five-episode mini-series written, directed and produced by Sam Levinson (from “Euphoria” fame) and co-produced by Abel Tesfaye, aka The Weeknd.
The show follows international icon and pop superstar, Jocelyn, played by Lily Rose-Depp, as she navigates a stressful and overwhelming press circus surrounding her recent tour cancellation due to mental illness, among other issues.
We follow Joss as she is being pulled left and right by various members of her team to release a comeback single that will put her back on track. Struggling to find her voice, she stumbles upon a sleazy yet captivating nightclub owner, Tedros, played by Tesfaye. Together, they engage in a sordid love affair that elevates Joss’ creative output while alienating those most loyal to her.
Losing herself more and more each day that Tedros is with her, the show attempts to break down the demanding and soul-crushing reality of Hollywood and the music industry. It serves as an insight into the neglect and often-abusive relationship artists have with themselves, others and even their own art.
What a load of shit.
It’s honestly hard to break down the lascivious behemoth that is this series.
Where do you even start? The writing? The direction? Acting? How about the absolutely incessant and overbearing amount of nudity and borderline creepy sexual themes in this show? You know what, let’s start there.
I’ll be the first to say that I’m no prude.
I have no issue with instances of nudity or depictions of sex in film, so long as it is used to drive the story forward and is not meaningless eye candy. The Idol’s use of nudity isn’t just eye candy, it is akin to shoving 10 pounds of Sour Patch Kids down your gullet and flushing it down with a liter of Mountain Dew.
Already within the first episode, within the first 10 minutes in fact, we get a conflict surrounding Jocelyn’s photoshoot for the cover of her comeback single, “World Class Sinner” (a decently poor song, although that seems to be on purpose) and her desire for partial nudity (a single nipple) on the cover.
The intimacy coordinator on the set takes issue with this, and advises her and her manager Chaim, played by Hank Azaria, that her nudity rider must be changed before she can publish anything displaying full frontal nudity.
The proper response Chaim takes is to, of course, lock the intimacy coordinator in the bathroom and pay a PA thousands of dollars to hold the door shut.
For context, intimacy coordinators have a crucial role on production sets to ensure that actors are not being taken advantage of on set. Emilia Clarke has infamously noted how uncomfortable was during many nude and sex scenes she filmed during her time on “Game of Thrones,” another HBO show, that did not have an intimacy coordinator on set.
For Sam Levinson to immediately introduce the audience to the prospect that intimacy coordinators are a silly nuisance on sets is bold, to say the least, as nearly every episode contains overwhelming amounts of nudity and graphic sex from basically every actress that is below 25 and conventionally attractive. It gets to a point where it just becomes absurd by the second episode.
The writing itself is immature and desperately wants to be deeper than it actually is. It is the kind of writing that 14-year-olds with brain injury would think is profound.
Within those same 10 minutes in the first episode, the first conversation in the show even, two members of her team are discussing the shoot, with one of them, Xander, taking issue with the sexual themes in conjunction with Jocelyn’s choice to wear a hospital wristband.
He asks Nikki, the representative from her label, if they are romanticizing mental illness with this cover.
“Absolutely,” replies Nikki. “Stop trying to cock-block America! Mental illness is sexy!”
She then goes on this half-baked musing on how Jocelyn is not the kind of girl anyone regularly meets in life, and if she was, “she is never, ever going to f–k you” unless “she has serious mental problems.”
Great stuff, Sam.
Other potent quotables from the show include a bit between Jocelyn and her assistant, Leia, after they meet Tedros. Leia remarks how he’s “so rape-y” and Jocelyn replies, “Yeah, I kinda like that.”
You have a line from Tedros, “If you’re gonna release a song called ‘I’m a freak’, you should at least sing it like you know how to f–k,” on top of saying Donna Summers sang “like she knew how to f–k,” whatever that means.
Eli Roth, who also unfortunately in this show, has this bizarre line in the third episode: “I’m f–kin’ shitting more blood than a kid at Epstein’s island.”
Tedros says in the second episode during a sex scene with Jocelyn that he “[wants] to grab you by the ass while I suffocate you with my c–k.” A line so bafflingly absurd and crude that it sounds like it comes from a porno script drafted by a 13-year-old.
I could go on and on, but this article is long enough and the current word count is more than this show deserves.
As far as acting, the show isn’t too bad, with Tesfaye’s character being the weakest link of the cast, by far in some instances. Whether it be from the lines, the direction, or his acting ability, I was not buying what he was trying to sell. While his character is supposed to be gross, he grossed me out for the wrong reasons, as many scenes did not feel like Tedros engaging in depravity, but rather Tesfaye poorly wearing the mask of his character.
Depp gave a good performance as Jocelyn was believable as the flawed megastar. Depp is dragged down, however, by some of the god-awful lines in the show, which was unavoidable by virtue of being in this shit-show of a show.
As far as music, cinematography and editing, it was all fine.
The greatest praise I can give is that it was serviceable. The editing in the final episode, however, is noticeably poor and feels like a rushed attempt to combine two episodes in one. It is also the worst episode of the show from a narrative sense, but ironically is the only episode without egregious nudity.
Overall, for a show that attempts to shine a light on some of the ills of the entertainment industry, it almost serves to show itself as an example of the very thing it is “trying” to criticize. I doubt that Levinson believes his own criticisms whatsoever.
The show from just a basic level fails to deliver any form of meaningful story-telling and barely moves anywhere until the very last episode, which delivers a twist so eye-rolling and borderline misogynistic (as if the show didn’t have enough of that already) that it is the perfect cherry on top of this glitter-covered shit sundae.
Beyond The Idol’s bizarre eccentricities and stumbles is a vapid tale that goes nowhere and teaches nothing. It is a hot mess that seems to only serves as a vanity project for Levinson and Tesfaye who seem to have derived too much enjoyment out of making this embarrassment.
Although this review is mostly spoiler free — for those who hate themselves enough to subject themselves to this schlock — I do not recommend this show for anyone with remotely anything better to do, this includes watching grass grow, paint dry and cleaning your bathroom with a toothbrush.
“The Idol,” if you couldn’t tell already, missed the mark. It couldn’t hit water if it fell out of a boat.
For the folks who wish to watch, I suggest the following drinking game that will enhance the experience. Not only will you actually have fun with friends watching it, but you’ll also forget it the next day too:
- Take a drink:
– When the word “f–k” is uttered
– Whenever there is nudity
– When “World Class Sinner” plays in the background
- Take a shot
– When Jocelyn cries
– Whenever a song featuring The Weeknd plays in the background
– Whenever a sex scene starts or when Tedros says something grossly sexual