I binged The Idol so you don’t have to

Meera Jacka
I binged The Idol so you don’t have to

The Idol promised to shock and enthrall, but in the end, failed to understand what direction to take and offered only a laughable acting debut for The Weeknd.

Going into The Idol while trying to block out the surrounding noise is no easy feat — everyone is talking about HBO’s latest trainwreck and Sam Levinson’s continued portrayal of sexism and misogyny.

Nonetheless, watching the show in a single take after hearing about its constant shortcomings felt ultimately lackluster. Its ability to offend was lost to bad acting that was so unbelievable it almost became humorous.

In the end, the Idol played out more like a teenager’s fanfic than the “revolutionary” show Levinson had promised.

Tedros and Jocelyn
Lily-Rose Depp and The Weeknd as Jocelyn and Tedros in the Idol

Confused direction weighs down The Idol’s storyline

The Idol has come a long way since its original inception, garnering attention (and criticism) long before its official release. The story follows aspiring pop star Jocelyn (Lily-Rose Depp) as she makes a comeback after her mother’s passing, only to get fixated by club owner Tedros (The Weeknd) and his sexually-liberated cult.

Originally directed by Amy Seimetz, six months later it was announced that Levinson would be taking over. The Weeknd believed there was too much “female perspective” — too much focus on Depp’s role and not enough on his own. And the change in creative direction is painfully obvious in the finished product.

Despite Levinson’s success with Euphoria, The Idol feels like it’s trying too hard to achieve the same notoriety. The show’s attempts to balance its darkest content matter with humor often fail to land, with the supporting cast given funny one-liners and the promise of an interesting character that is never explored. And it’s a shame because one of Euphoria’s greatest strengths is its fascinating cast of characters.

The Idol dance scene
Against The Weeknd’s better judgment, The Idol left me wishing for more female perspective.

In the end, Jocelyn and Tedros aren’t interesting enough to keep viewers engaged — especially when so many of their scenes together involve cringeworthy foreplay that elicits second-hand embarrassment. Character development comes second with the Idol prioritizing steamy scenes in which Depp is always undressing. So, while viewers are well aware of Depp’s stunning beauty, Jocelyn’s character remains largely one-dimensional.

Not to mention, the show’s focus on Jocelyn feel’s half-hearted due to constant attempts to convince viewers of Tedros’ agency. But no matter how often viewers are told that Tedros has “godly” allure, it simply isn’t convincing.

The Weeknd’s acting is too painful to watch

To be clear, not all of The Idol’s acting is bad. In fact, much of the supporting cast is what kept the show watchable and Lily Rose-Depp showed much promise in her role as the troubled pop star. But throwing in The Weeknd as seedy and seductive club owner Tedros was certainly a headscratcher.

While The Weeknd might have the music industry experience Levinson was looking for, his acting chops are not on par with what The Idol needed. Instead of being provocative, kinky, and powerful, Tedros inspires confusion. He is as unconvincing as a “godly” cult leader as he is the sleazy man sliding his way into Jocelyn’s life. While one could argue that Jocelyn is vulnerable, Tedros’ portrayal is just too pathetic to pass as believable.

The Idol's Tedros
The Weeknd wasn’t convincing as Tedros, which affected The Idol’s overall narrative due to his pivotal role.

Now The Weeknd has since claimed that this was intentional, but without the charm or charisma, the story quickly falls flat as a weak follow-up to Fifty Shades of Grey. Especially when Jocelyn’s brief encounter with her ex and her sauna trip with Dyanne offered more sexual tension than any scenes with Tedros.

The role needed someone to bring it to life; take reductive cliches and twist them. But Tedros was ultimately as unthreatening as he was unsexy, so when the final episode’s twist was revealed it didn’t come as a surprise — if anything, it was a predictable relief. Because surely (surely!) no one was falling for his cheesy manipulation.

As my favorite line in the show goes, “I don’t trust anyone with a rat tail like that.”

The Idol's Tedros and Jocelyn
Overall, The Idol was too lackluster to even be offensive.

In the end, The Idol failed to deliver on all fronts: it was not thought-provoking or revolutionary, and it certainly wasn’t as offensive as so many claimed. Passing off flashy depictions of kinky sex as radical transgression isn’t enough to fool most, and its focus on Tedros and Jocelyn is a distraction from the show’s more interesting subplots.

I watched The Idol hoping for something of the same caliber as Netflix’s Maid but realized the vision Levinson and The Weeknd were hoping to achieve was not synonymous with what they had advertised. Despite promising to dive into the dark side of the music industry, The Idol just felt like torture porn on a high budget made to appease a certain musician’s fantasy.

The Idol Episodes 1-5 are now streaming on Max. You can check out more of our coverage of the show below:

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