top of page

The Idol: Modern Television or Torture Porn?

My thoughts after the first episode *spoilers ahead*

Credit: HBO

 

After the first two episodes premiered at this year’s Cannes Film Festival, “The Idol” quickly became HBO’s most controversial and poorly reviewed show in history. Taking the prime 9 p.m. Sunday spot with stars like Lily-Rose Depp and The Weeknd, production from A24 and Euphoria’s director Sam Levinson on set, how did the anticipated smash-hit manage to fuck up this bad?


“The Idol” has been heavily buzzed about ever since it was announced and the first trailer dropped in July of last year, especially with such a star-studded cast featuring supporting roles with Blackpink’s Jennie, singer Troye Sivan and many other familiar faces. Prior to its release, the show was already subject to criticism after Rolling Stone published an expose which painted the show as someone’s “rape fantasy.” The comments came from alleged changes that were made to the script after original director Amy Smeitz left the show and creative reigns were handed to Sam Levinson, creator of “Euphoria. Amid this change, the script was said to have become much more explicit, almost becoming the thing it was meant to satire, which was the sexualization and exploitation of young, female celebrities.


“Mental illness is sexy” is quoted from the first ten minutes of the episode.

Credit: HBO


After watching the public release of the first episode, we know that the self-proclaimed “sleaziest love story in all of Hollywood” centers around Depp’s character, Jocelyn, a young pop-star trying to reclaim her spot in Hollywood following some mental health issues and her mother’s death, as she falls for a borderline-creepy night-club owner, played by Abel “The Weeknd” Tesfaye. The opening scene features Jocelyn in a topless photoshoot sporting nothing but an open robe and a… hospital band? The message of the photos is “she’s young, beautiful and damaged,” according to her publicist. A scandalous photo of Jocelyn gets leaked on the internet and her team is livid about how this will affect her reputation, but ultimately their pockets. This shows the dichotomy that they are okay with exploitation in one scenario and not the other. It becomes clear early on in the show that Jocelyn’s team has no problem romanticizing her battle with mental illness or exploiting her sexuality for the sake of publicity and money, a common trope we see in real-world Hollywood, almost reminiscent of cases like Britney Spears and Lindsay Lohan — they even referenced Britney in the episode.



“From the sick and twisted minds of Sam Levinson, creator of Euphoria and Abel “The Weeknd” Tesfaye.” a quote from the trailer.


While out at an illustrious nightclub, she ends up being approached by the club’s seemingly grimy owner, Tedros. After sharing a passionate kiss on the dance floor, he tells her “how could anyone not fall in love with you?” and appropriately she says, “I don’t even know you.” This common example of love bombing is a manipulation tactic which will foreshadow the formation of their relationship from an unhealthy power dynamic. The two spend a night together where she seeks his honest opinion on her upcoming single, “I’m a Freak.” After listening, he says that if you are going to sing a song with that title, “you should at least sing it like you know to fuck,” insisting that her vocal performance gives away her sexual immaturity. In an attempt to correct this, Tedros offers Jocelyn a new kind of sexual experience by tightly wrapping her robe around her face and neck until she is gasping for air until he finally cuts a small slit where her mouth is and says, “now you can sing.”


Credit: HBO


Though this is only the first episode, unfortunately, this show seems like a lot of wasted potential. Even with the many things this series got right—cinematography, aesthetics, wardrobe and casting—there are many things it got wrong. I don’t think the problem with “The Idol” comes from the fact that it’s too sexual, because quite honestly that’s nothing new to see on screen these days. I think the problem is that it tries so hard to be provocative that it feels inorganic. In place of good storytelling or character development, there’s an excessive amount of nudity and pornographic narratives that feel overtly created by a straight man (i.e. Jocelyn choking herself or replying “I kind of like that about him” when her assistant says Tedros seems rapey.) There also comes the risk of romanticizing abuse when pushing these narratives so much in this storyline. Where this show had more than enough shock value, it missed the mark in telling this story from a female perspective. As a viewer, this is somewhat disappointing as it seems like a missed opportunity to explore more deeply such interesting and relevant themes like celebrity exploitation, uneven power dynamics in Hollywood relationships and the effects of stardom.


Overall, I am eager to see how the remainder of the series will pan out. I liked it much more than I expected to after seeing post-release reviews. With the amount of good overarching themes in this show, there is a possibility that the general population will shift the conversation away from the show’s explicit content and instead open conversations about mental health and celebrity exploitation. I know the concept of feeling bad for celebrities might sound strange, but it is a relevant conversation to be having.

 

Sabrina Castro is an online writer at Rowdy Magazine as well as part of the social team! When she's not obsessing over the latest TikTok trends with her cat, Lucifer, you can find her at the local Gainesville thrift stores searching for hidden Y2K gems. You can find her on Instagram @sabswurld.

댓글


bottom of page