Film and TV

Lily-Rose Depp Makes The Idol Worth Watching, But Barely

Lily-Rose Depp is one of the few redeemable reasons to watch The Idol.
Lily-Rose Depp is one of the few redeemable reasons to watch The Idol. Screenshot

The Idol isn't unwatchable. It has massive flaws, but it isn't some huge disaster or the shocking psycho-sexual pop thrill ride it has marketed itself to be. Created by Sam Levinson, creator of Euphoria, and Abel "The Weeknd" Tesfaye, pop megastar, the series is supposed to be a bold raunchy exploration of the chaotic life of a popstar, played by Lilly Rose-Depp, that is almost too sexy and shocking to be on TV (a sentiment those involved with the show have beaten into the ground in every interview.)

Spoiler, the show isn't all that shocking. It's a collection of several ideas that aren't fleshed out that, through two episodes, isn't very coherent TV, with incredible direction despite its aimlessness, while also being hilarious but definitely not intentionally hilarious.

The Idol centers on Jocelyn (Lily-Rose Depp), an aspiring pop idol who vows to restore her title as the premier sexy pop star in America after having a nervous breakdown that forced her last tour to be postponed. During this crucial time in her personal life and career, she starts a complicated relationship with Tedros (Tesfaye), a club owner entrepreneur and cult leader.

The first half of the first episode is a prolonged look at a day in the life of Jocelyn, preparing for her big music video shoot with her team consisting of assistants, publicists, and others, giving the audience exposition of how Jocelyn has gotten to this point. The start of the show is trying to be a fast-paced comedy in the vein of something like Veep, a satirical look at a pop star.

The drama before the real drama is that Jocelyn wants the photo shoot to be more risque; she wants to show more of her body, and it’s a point of conflict for her team. Jocelyn then becomes the victim of revenge porn, having an intimate picture of her leaked, which her team hid from her as long as they could, and the betrayal leads to her going out where she meets Tedros, the owner of the club and genuine creep who she starts a romance with immediately.

The "arcseries" arc will follow Jocelyn as Tedros digs his fingers into her life, taking over her career and ultimately turning her into the idol he wants her to be. The problem is that the parts of the show with The Weeknd aren't that good or interesting.

What works in the show is Lilly Rose-Depp, who, for the most part, is pretty good. She clearly has the ability to be the centerpiece of a series like this. The industry stuff, the drama within her team about her career, is the most interesting part of the show. In the second episode, there is a music video sequence that evolves into a brutal montage of the choreography that's being repeated over and over until Jocelyn's feet bleed and her team trying to make sense of her mental state and what failing here will do to her career. Some are already planning for her eventual downfall hedging bets on a new star. It was the best part of the show by far, the direction really shines, and is the most striking evidence of some lost potential.

The entire story with Tedros is unbelievable. He is visibly creepy, wears terrible clothes, is devoid of any charisma, and has the most cringe-inducing lines. It's not believable that Jocelyn would instantly fall for this guy, with all those qualities and then proceed to let him take over her life.

There is a generous read on The Weeknd’s performance that essentially says what he is doing with the character is on purpose, which is unlikely. He is purposely not attractive, and he is purposefully lacking charisma. The show is trying very hard to call back on sexual thrillers like Basic Instinct, as well as films about stardom like Purple Rain.

The thing about sexual thrillers of the past is that the crazy people in the films were often unbelievably charming and attractive, making it believable that someone would get caught up with them. Tedros' dialogue in the sex scene occurring in episode two is one of the most cringe-worthy five minutes you will watch on TV.

He is essentially speaking lyrics from one of his real life songs to Jocelyn, and it is terrible. It's so unsexy and awkward that it becomes hilarious. Tedros is not supposed to be funny. Giving that credit to The Weeknd and Sam Levinson for doing this on purpose would be generous. Tedros is just an unserious and funny character that is supposed to be believable, and he’s just not.

The Idol is not a good narrative TV show. It has some interesting ideas behind it that take a backseat to Sam Levinson and The Weeknd’s fantasies. The show is supposed to be sexy and too hot to handle, but the act of putting Rose-Depp in as little clothing as possible in every scene saps the show of any real commentary on the objectification of young female stars and simply just objectifies its star through oversaturation and nothing real to say.

There is plenty of commentary and discourse about the show and how the male gaze of its creators has affected the show and how problematic that can be, and it's a valid critique, especially when you realize there is no substance to any of it; there's no subtext just some hollow ideas from people who believe they are very clever.

The Idol is not a complete disaster. It's just not good. The unintentional comedy of The Weeknd’s performance might make watching the show week to week more interesting as a sort of sideshow aspect. The show might take some unexpected turns and deliver something worthwhile but through two episodes, it looks doubtful.

The skeleton of a good show is there. A story about a pop star's rise and fall would probably be pretty good in the right hands, but so far we will have to settle for what the show ultimately is: a mess.

The Idol is streaming on HBO and Max.
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Contributor Jamil David is a native Houstonian and Texas Southern University alumnus. He is interested in TV, sports and pop culture. @JMLJMLD
Contact: Jamil David