Elizabeth Brady ’25 is a public policy major and an English minor, and she is a member of Alpha Chi Omega. She loves art, music and movies. Email her at email@example.com.
The views expressed in this article are the authors own.
“The Idol” seems like it was made to be talked about.
When the project was announced in April, and it was revealed that Abel Tesfaye, better known as The Weeknd, and Lily Rose-Depp were the stars, it sent every Starboy fan and 2016 Tumblr user running to their keyboards. Everything about the show is so internet-friendly, especially the casting, which is stacked with chic and beautiful people: Troye Sivan, Jennie Kim, Rachel Sennot and Hari Knef, to name a few. Sam Levinson, the Emmy-nominated, parent-scaring writer/director of “Euphoria”, was pulled into the production, adding even more momentum. “The Idol” was all set up to be the buzzy, witty and sexy show of the summer.
And then it wasn’t.
“The Idol” seems like it was made to be talked about.
So, let’s talk about it.
To put it simply: it’s just not very good. The premise of the story is that Rose-Depp’s Josslyn, a flailing child star turned pop singer, begins a relationship with Tesfaye’s Tedros, a skeezy club owner who leads an artistic cult. Any promise that this interesting idea had is negated by writing that is disjointed, unmotivated and mystifying without being at all interesting.
Despite the fact that a significant amount of the story is rooted in psychology, trauma, manipulation and abuse, all of our characters remain entirely one-dimensional. We know our lead character Josslyn is sad — not because we understand anything about her — but because we can see her crying. Tedros delivers on the creep factor but is completely vacant of any of the magnetism or charm you would expect from someone capable of his level of manipulation and control. I understand that the show is about the outlandishness and depravity of the music industry, so I don’t expect the characters to be relatable or even believable. However, I expect them to at least feel like characters, and this they do not.
In promotions, “The Idol” was advertised as “the sleaziest love story in all of Hollywood.” Long, suggestive shots of Rose-Depp from ads promised us some good-old-fashioned small-screen raunch. On this front, it both delivered and did not.
Is there sex in “The Idol?”
Is it sexy?
As the audience, we see a lot. We see Tedros slap Josslyn around and choke her with a bathrobe. We see him do this, and we see him do that, and honestly, after a while it gets kind of tiring. Josslyn’s sexual relationship with Tedros is supposed to be a key element of his manipulation of her; the “dark,” “twisted” and “freaky” places he takes her to are supposed to be critical to her art, her identity and her trauma, but it ends up feeling forced and exploitative. I’m sure there’s more I can say, but I don’t really care to say it. Creators of “The Idol” very obviously put a lot of weird sexual scenes in this show in order to make people talk about it, and I refuse to reward bad behavior.
A big problem with this show is that it feels like it spends five episodes talking, only for you to get to the end and realize it has nothing to say. It’s about fame and the abuse that celebrities are put through but fails to deliver on that narratively. It focuses on a strange and abusive relationship, and the strange and abusive sex that happens within that relationship but fails to say anything about either sex or relationships. The show’s ending is not only narratively weak, but it also undoes any commentary that the show attempts to make.
In an almost Freudian way, the problems with the show can be traced directly back to its development. Levinson was not the original director for the project — that seat belonged to Amy Seimetz, who has experience writing and directing tense, female-centered stories. According to Rolling Stone, Seimetz was hampered by budget restraints, tight timelines and profit expectations from HBO executives. Her replacement is speculated to be for a number of reasons: maybe HBO wanted a replica of “Euphoria” (which by season two had snared them over 16 million viewers), maybe Seimetz got fed up or maybe it was the fact that Tesfaye believed her vision to be too focused on the “female perspective” (because why would we want that in a story about a woman? I can’t think of a better creative team to tell a woman’s story than two men)!
Under Levinson’s direction, the vision for the project changed completely, and (similar to season two of “Euphoria”), sets became unruly, and rewrites became constant. It’s not hard to see how a scattered filming schedule and a chaotic set led to a show that feels as flimsy and unfocused as “The Idol” does.
The sad fact about Levinson is that the more I see from him, the less impressed I am. His work on the first season of “Euphoria” was an uncontested success, both visually and narratively, but season two ended up being a different story. Although the buzz and press from the first season made it a fun group-watch for the entire internet, the plot thinned significantly, rich characters flattened, and the visual tricks that worked so well in season one got a little stale. His work on “Malcolm and Marie” was even more of a letdown. Levinson enjoys making visuals, and he enjoys writing stories, but he’s not very good at writing characters — at least not ones whose experiences don’t directly reflect his.
Seimetz’s cut of “The Idol” is my personal Library of Alexandria. I was genuinely very excited to watch the show (I had an Instagram countdown and everything) and was really disappointed in the end result. There are pictures floating around on the internet from Seimetz-era set pieces that show the inside of a girl’s room stuffed with Josslyn paraphernalia, and I want to know so, so badly what a good version of the show is like.
There is a world where “The Idol” is everything it could’ve been: a sleek, smart and star-powered criticism of the music industry that populated mood boards and gave us the songs of the summer. However, we do not live in the world where “The Idol” is a good show; we live in this one, where the best version of it is still on the cutting room floor, the scripts are in wastebaskets and money is down the drain.