The post The Idol Premiere Provides No Reason to Continue Watching: Review appeared first on Consequence.
[Editor’s note: The following contains spoilers for The Idol, Season 1 Episode 1, “Pop Tarts & Rat Tails.”]
Think about the worst pop song you’ve ever heard: Perhaps there was a lyric that felt out of place, or a riff that didn’t sit right. Maybe the song was reductive, uninspired, forced, or out of touch. More likely, though, for a song to go from inconsequential to outright detestable, it has to be grating. It has to be repetitive. It has to be boring.
To be boring is the worst sin a pop song can commit. Along similar lines, unfortunately, HBO‘s The Idol, proves to be a sorry replacement for the Sunday evening lineups many viewers have grown to love — and won’t be stuck in your head anytime soon.
Helmed by Sam Levinson, a creator best known for HBO’s Euphoria and being dismissive of conversations around consent and onscreen nudity, the premise is easy enough to follow: The first episode introduces us to Jocelyn (Lily-Rose Depp), a pop star at the height of her youth and beauty but struggling to recover from a highly publicized “psychotic break.”
We’re in the lead-up to a new single from Jocelyn, a comeback of sorts, and her anxious assistant and best friend Leia (Rachel Sennott), longtime manager Chaim (Hank Azaria), and publicist (Dan Levy, who seems to be acting in a more whimsical and hopefully better show) flit around her nervously, attempting to appease her and keep her days on track. Her innermost circle is rounded out by other notable figures with less defined roles, played by Troye Sivan, Da’Vine Joy Randolph, and Jane Adams.
The Idol has been making headlines for some time now, and mostly for less than savory reasons: A detailed and well-sourced piece from Rolling Stone described a show that began as an interesting commentary on stardom and descended into self-parody and something more akin to “torture porn.” While refuting the description, Sam Levinson responded at Cannes by saying, “I think we’re about to have the biggest show of the summer.”
The Idol (HBO)
Levinson has a track record of not responding to criticism particularly well: 2021’s Malcolm & Marie overtly reads as a direct response to a film critic who penned a review Levinson seemed to take extremely personally. And while unconfirmed, there were reports of actress Barbie Ferreira pushing back on her character’s Euphoria plot line, only for Kat to be dramatically reduced in the show’s second season. Ferreira has since exited the show, saying that, “Sam writes for things that he relates to.”
The opening of The Idol, in turn, feels like Levinson’s reply to criticism once more, this time that the nudity depicted in Euphoria (a show about high schoolers) is gratuitous. We’re introduced to an intimacy coordinator on hand for Jocelyn’s photo shoot: Immediately, the character is presented to us as a joke — he just doesn’t understand Jocelyn’s vision, or that nudity is always empowering. He’s holding up the shoot. He’s costing everyone money. “Look at how ridiculous this man is for trying to do his job,” the show seems to say. “Laugh at him with us.”
Overall the episode, while stylish in places, feels propelled by things the creators believe look cool, rather than ideas that hold any water. Jocelyn chain smokes because it’s visually appealing; her dancers rehearse outside in the Southern California sunshine instead of one of the many rooms inside her sprawling mansion because it’s a more visually interesting set piece. There’s a Vanity Fair reporter hanging around and a Live Nation bigwig ludicrously treated like a celebrity because it’s easier to put themes of fame on display than to have anything remotely interesting to say about them.
While she looks the part of a pop star through and through, Depp’s performance as Jocelyn feels similarly hollow in this introductory episode, and it’s unclear how much of this is by design. Meanwhile, Blackpink‘s Jennie, gorgeous onscreen and cleverly utilized as a backup dancer, operates with similarly wooden line readings — The Idol marks the official acting debut for the artist, and while it’s understandable for her to be mirroring her co-star, exchanges between the two feel somewhat wobbly.
Nothing can prepare the viewer, though, for the utter silliness that occurs when Jocelyn heads out for a night on the town to distract herself from a photo leaked against her will depicting her in a sexually vulnerable position. (But remember — intimacy coordinators are silly and unnecessary!) In the club, Jocelyn meets Tedros (Abel “The Weeknd” Tesfaye), who Leia describes as “a little rape-y.” “I kind of like that about him,” Jocelyn responds, in a real line spoken on this show.
The Idol (HBO)
Following a miserable excuse for banter, Jocelyn and Tedros strike up a quick romance. “You fit perfectly in my arms,” Tedros whispers in her ear, and, for some reason, Jocelyn is left breathless. Back at her home, a moment presented as erotic strikes fear into the heart of any woman who has ever looked over her shoulder walking home at night, double-checked the backseat of the car, or second-guessed heading home with a man. When Tedros ties up Jocelyn and pulls out a weapon, she’s depicted as completely aroused, while this writer’s stomach turned.
The show tells us this is all for the sake of art: Jocelyn’s yet-to-be-released single is lackluster, and she needs Tedros’ touch to make her music believable. The problem is that these two have negative amounts of chemistry — we don’t see a single plausible reason why Jocelyn would be interested in someone so slimy with much less cultural capital — and The Weeknd, who did a perfectly serviceable self-parody in Uncut Gems, is not interesting to watch here.
When the credits roll (a good 20 minutes after I checked to see how much time remained in the episode and groaned out loud), the pilot doesn’t leave much of a mark — sure, it’s shocking in places and a little gross in others, but the strongest feeling is a sense of emptiness, leaving behind no reason to consume future episodes.
For as showy as it is, The Idol introduces itself by being all tell and very little show; it’s excessive in a self-indulgent way, depicting the pitfalls of superstardom without actually adding anything new to the conversation. It’s excess for excess’s sake, but none of the fun that comes with a well-placed beat drop. It’s an empty chorus.
It didn’t have to be so boring.
New episodes of The Idol premiere Sundays on HBO and HBO Max.