The Idol is Sam Levinson and The Weeknd’s disturbing male fantasy under the guise of ‘social commentary’

The show is the worst of 2023 and an absolutely terrible, unnecessary watch.
11 Jul, 2023

The Idol, straight from the ‘genius’ minds of Euphoria creator Sam Levinson and Abel ‘The Weeknd’ Tesfaye, is some genuine over-sexualised torment carelessly thrown on screen.

Featuring Jocelyn (Lily-Rose Depp), a pop star who experiences a psychotic break after the death of her mother trying to make her way back to the top of the industry and, unfortunately, beginning her complicated relationship with abusive cult leader Tedros (The Weeknd). Try as I might, that’s the most concise summary I can give you. There is genuinely no actual plot to the show.

The Idol uses trauma porn and unwatchable explicit scenes as an excuse for the lack of proper story direction. This is made even more obvious by the poor writing and characterisation. The tonal shifts are confusing, eccentric and just make the show’s lack of direction and purpose all the more prominent. The characterisation is a train-wreck, making it impossible for the audience to even know what to expect from them, let alone care for them. And the constant hypersexualisation of every female (and a fair share of males) that appeared on screen just felt disturbing, violating and, above all, unnecessary.

All in all, it was just difficult to watch.

With full understanding of art being subjective, this is a show that really should not have been made. Among many issues, first and foremost, The Idol is a show that lied to its audience.

Originally under the creative direction of Amy Seimetz of She Dies Tomorrow and The Girlfriend Experience, the show was advertised and built around the image of being a dark social commentary of the exploitation of artists in the entertainment industry. Considering all of this, it is strange that the original director parted from the series when around 80 per cent of it was already completed due to The Weeknd’s concerns about the show having too much “female perspective.”

Really, Abel? A show about the exploitation of women has too much of a female gaze?

There is one particular source, however, quoted in a Rolling Stone feature, that perfectly summarises my own thoughts and the main issue most have with the show: “What I signed up for was a dark satire of fame and the fame model in the 21st century,” but, since we can’t have well written stories anymore, “it went from satire to the thing it was satirising.”

Jocelyn has no personality. At all. She’s just there as a blank, sexualised vessel for the trauma Levinson and The Weeknd want her to play out. Even more infuriatingly, the sexualisation and nudity is so consistent, despite being more unnecessary than Tedros’ rat tail. I believe there is more time of her casually, uselessly topless than there is of her without, and even then, of the (few) times she’s covered she does not wear a normal shirt once.

God forbid we go 15 minutes without such ‘vital’ scenes. How else would we fulfil Levinson’s creepy male fantasies? The Weeknd should also get some credit in that department, seeing as he is (somehow) the creative lead, after all.

However, the focus remains on how a show supposedly commentating and critiquing the exploitation of women in the entertainment industry not only failed to deliver, but also used that as an excuse to do the very thing it was supposed to be lamenting. Lily-Rose Depp gets the worst of it, but actor Suzanna Son, who plays 17-year-old Chloe, also had it pretty rough. The way the show both infantilises and sexualises her at the same time is extremely disturbing and, quite frankly, disgusting. Even if some try to argue ‘exploiting’ is too strong a word, despite everything, the over-sexualisation and nudity aren’t the sole problems; it’s how violating they feel.

Seeing the character of Jocelyn on the verge of a psychotic break or reliving her trauma or being pulled in even deeper into her abusive relationship with Tedros and seeing such vulnerable moments for her character being invaded by unnecessary sexual fantasies being played out by Levinson is just plain disturbing. More often than not, I found myself unable to watch.

It just felt so wrong and violating towards both Jocelyn and Lily-Rose Depp. The trauma isn’t even well written. It wasn’t processed or explored — it’s just there. More often than not, it leads back to the over-sexualisation, and there’s a very disgusting feeling that the trauma is an important layer of the whole male fantasy aspect of it. To be fair, that’s disturbingly present throughout the whole show, so much so that it’s impossible to look past. It feels like some strange male fantasy being played out on screen, from both Levinson’s side as the director and The Weeknd’s as the male lead. With those two being the creative heads of the show and essentially having all the power, it’s impossible to be unaware of it.

All of that isn’t even considering the harmful messaging the show is conveying. Within the first five minutes on the show, Jocelyn’s team (Jane Adams as Nikki, Troye Sivan as Xander and Hank Azaria as Chaim) have a discussion about mental illness or, more specifically, how “mental Illness is sexy.” This is something that is reinforced throughout the show, with Jocelyn being unable to produce good music without trauma.

It’s not as if she feels like she can’t write without abuse and eventually, through the power of character growth, comes into herself and realises she doesn’t need any of that — she actually needs trauma according to the show’s portrayal. With her abusive mother’s death, it is implied that for her artistic spark to come back, she needs to get that abuse from elsewhere and boom, in comes Tedros. This also insinuates that when women are in toxic or abusive relationships, it’s because they want it.

The show even goes as far as to have him beat her in the same manner her mother did, and she’s grateful for it, being able to write and produce a hit immediately after.

Yup. You read that right. Sadly, I had to suffer through this mess so that you all don’t have to, but honestly I’ve been very heavily contemplating my choices.

The Idol disgustingly glorifies trauma, ignores mental health and both romanticises and stigmatises mental illness. If the latter was truly meant to be commentary on the industry, why did it portray mental illness as just a catalyst for artistic inspiration? That concept is never explored or rectified, being portrayed less as a negative reflection of the industry and just as the ‘truth’.

For one to be considered an artistic genius, they have to suffer, they have to seek out pain, they have to teeter on the edge of sanity and madness. This message is solidified in the final episode of the show where we learn that — surprise surprise — Tedros was the real victim all along.

How, you may ask. Well, because Jocelyn was pulling the strings all along, of course! This is a female ‘empowering’ show, so she’s obviously a girlboss who wanted to get abused in search of inspiration for her musical comeback. Of course she wanted it. Poor Tedros was being used by her all this time, because without that abuse, trauma, mental illness, how on earth could she create something meaningful? The girl was actually the villain and the abuser the victim, how poetic!

This is the message of The Idol — one that is extremely harmful, toxic and concerning. A study published in the Journal of Health Communications says that the portrayal of mental health and illness in the media has a significant impact on people’s views of it. Relaying these messages, especially with no depth, exploration or justification, can be and is damaging and harmful to many. It also gives out the wrong idea from the ‘female empowerment’ stand the show has been trying to make.

Jocelyn was already unlikable enough without being vilified, and it honestly just made me laugh as I watched the show. The twist is portrayed as this big, empowering moment when, in reality, it was a cheap, pathetic end to an already bad story and was far more misogynistic than ‘empowering’.

In an era of mediocrity, The Idol has gone out of its way to become, according to the consensus of many, the worst show of 2023 so far. Not only is it just a terrible, unnecessary watch, it’s also a creepy male fantasy fulfilment and, worst of all, delivering genuinely harmful messaging to its audience.