The co-creation of music superstar Abel Tesfaye, aka The Weeknd, and Euphoria creator Sam Levinson, the series seemed to have everything going for it. So what went so wrong, asks Laura Martin.
Some compared The Idol to the 2022 Netflix film Blonde, another production that seemed to revel in the relentless sexual violation of its female lead character (in that case, Marilyn Monroe, played by Ana De Armas), shot for the male gaze, by a male director, Andrew Dominik.
An identity crisis
Then there was the confusion over what exactly The Idol was meant to be. It seemed to be many shows masquerading as one: was it an erotic drama, exploring power dynamics in an S&M relationship? Was it a satire on the absurd nature of the music industry? Were we meant to fear Tedros, asked Vulture, or laugh at him? The show awkwardly flip-flopped about, never fully landing on what it wanted to deliver. Meanwhile, the seeming focus on being edgy – or “sick and twisted”, as early teaser trailers claimed the minds of Levinson and Tesfaye to be – came at a cost. The dialogue was appalling, the plot didn’t get moving until the penultimate episode – and even then was a confusing mess – and there was little to no character progression. Forget hard-core; “this is hard-bore,” quipped the Evening Standard.
Any positives were lost in the chaotic discourse around the show. But the actors, for the most part, did their best with a bad script – Depp’s performance cements her as a talent on the rise and other standouts from the series were Sivan, Da’Vine Joy Randolph and Susanna Son. While Tesfaye was panned for the conceiving of the idea and his lack of acting skills, his soundtrack was at least full of The Weeknd’s signature beguiling, dark electronic pop, conveying the themes of his TV show far more convincingly than the series itself. The track World Class Sinner / I’m A Freak, while presumed to be in part a parody of sexualised tracks young female singers are made to perform, has been heralded as a “banger”, leading GQ to ask “Is this the song of the summer?” (apologies to Kylie Minogue’s Padam Padam) after being streamed more than 11m times on Spotify since its release.
Are there any lessons to be learned from this blighted TV series? While an obvious one seems to be about allowing female directors to lead on traumatic, female-focused stories, another one might be that no superstar creative is too big to fail. Tesfaye’s desire to make the show fit his vision seems to have won out, for better, or in this case, most likely worse.
“From what I’ve seen, the show is great,” Tesfaye told W Magazine in May before the show’s premiere. “Everything is a risk: When you’ve done the best you can, I would call that a happy ending. And I got my voice back.” But at what cost to something that had the makings of an interesting production?
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