After months of anticipation and controversy, the first episode of HBO's The Idol has finally premiered on HBO and its newly christened streaming platform Max. The show stars Abel 'The Weeknd' Tesfaye, Lily-Rose Depp, and Jennie Ruby Jane (aka Jennie from BLACKPINK). The show was directed by Euphoria creator/director Sam Levinson, who co-created it alongside Tesfaye.
The show's premise follows troubled popstar Jocelyn (played by Depp) as she begins a relationship with the mysterious club owner/cult leader Tedros (played by Tesfaye) that is passionate and tumultuous. Marketed as 'the sleaziest love story,' clips in the trailers and teasers for the show promised The Idol to be a non-stop sexually charged and drug-rampant ride that would reach peak levels of hedonism and debauchery. Taking up the 9 pm Sunday night timeslot, The Idol replaces the recently ended and critically acclaimed Succession.
Even before its release, The Idol already had people talking. This is due to its star-studded cast which seemed designed to strike a chord with Stan Twitter, its status as Euphoria's little sister as it is a Levinson project, and the allegations that were made about the show's production in a Rolling Stone report published in March. Now the series has finally kicked off, more grounded opinions can start to be formed.
Beginning with the positives, the opening scene was quite riveting. Opening on a close-up shot on the face of Jocelyn's face as she does an explicit photoshoot for her upcoming album. The scene has Jocelyn go through a myriad of expressions-happiness, mischievousness, sexual arousal, vulnerability, and sadness. This scene goes a long way to show Depp's acting skills.
Another thing I enjoyed about this episode was the supporting characters, especially the people around Jocelyn. Jocelyn's best friend/assistant Leia (played by Rachel Sennott), her managers Chaim (played by Hank Azaria) and Destiny (played by Da'Vine Joy Randolph), publicist (played by Dan Levy), record executive Nikki (played by Jane Adams), and creative director Xander (played by Troye Sivan). In the first half of the episode, these characters help keep the audience entertained as the main plot begins to kick into motion-which takes a long time, but we will get back to that later.
In the first half of this episode, we see these supporting characters contend with the leak of an intimate photo of Jocelyn. They run around like headless chickens trying to figure out how to do damage control while keeping the situation from Jocelyn herself. This sequence in the episode provides a peek into the world of celebrities in the modern Internet age-specifically displaying what a celebrity's team does behind the scenes to ensure their career can weather whatever scandals thrown their way. In doing this, we are made clear of the intention to explore the deeper workings of the entertainment industry. And it is made entertaining due to the chemistry and banter between the supporting characters that have them hilariously cursing their luck and hurling out death threats.
As significant as the amount of time spent focusing on the intimate photo and entertaining as it was to watch the characters deal with it, the show makes the poor choice to put this (almost) subplot to the wayside and have it remain out of focus for the rest of the episode. It was a poor choice for a couple of reasons. For one thing, the photo leak was a lost opportunity to give a bit more character depth to our main character Jocelyn-who was the victim in this situation-who we mostly get to know through the exposition of the supporting cast.
Another way the photo leak was a missed opportunity was its potential of being used toward doing some rather substantial social commentary about gender-based violence in the digital age and how even female public figures are vulnerable to it. One of the ways that digital technology is used to target women is the non-consensual sharing of private photos, which became prominent during Covid times. It touches the entertainment industry due to the phenomenon of female celebrities, including music stars like Miley Cyrus and Iggy Azalea, having their intimate photos leaked over the years. If The Idol genuinely wanted to highlight the particular struggles of someone like Jocelyn, the photo leak subplot would have given them plenty to work with.
Another reason abandoning the photo leak plot thread was a poor choice is that it leaves the rest of the episode to flounder about as nothing much really happens after the leak situation-in fact, barely anything substantial happens for most of this episode.Yes, we have that TikTok trend-inspiring provocative dance practice scene that sees Jennie as a backup dancer named Dyanne showing up a struggling Jocelyn how before the popstar finally gets the choreography down. While the scene does help us to get to know Jocelyn as a ball of anxiety, it doesn't make up for the rest of the episode feeling empty until we are introduced to Tedros.
Tesfaye's Tedros leaves much to be desired and much more to be thrown into a fiery dumpster. Instead of being alluring with a dominating presence, Tedros comes off as creepy and unable to be taken seriously. While this has much to do with Tesfaye's performance, choices made regarding his hair and outfits did not help matters either. The rattail does the usually handsome singer-actor no favors and his entire ensemble makes him look like the Morbius meme. Nothing in how Tesfaye and the show present Tedros makes the audience want to know more about him or understand what draws Jocelyn to him. Latter is worrying for the show as the relationship between Tedros and Jocelyn is supposedly the driving force behind what will happen in the story.
In conclusion, the first episode of The Idol, “Pop Tarts & Rat Tales” was a boring bust. It has the supporting cast outshine and outdo its two main characters, goes through the motions rather than telling an actual story, and there is little to no chemistry between the primary couple in this show. While its pre-release discourse that saw many condemn the show even before its release might have made watching the first episode of The Idol a bit interesting, it also makes it infuriating as this boring beginning fails to live up to the controversy-built hype and makes one wonder if the rest of show is even worth hate-watching.
Edited by Shahnawaz Chodhry
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