Did you watch The Idol? I saw the first episode while laid up from FFS and loved what a disaster it was. More specifically: I love mess.
The show’s deeply unhinged premise, re-tooled from its original concept by The Weeknd and Euphoria mastermind Sam Levinson, hinges on antiheroine Jocelyn, a pop superstar on the verge of staging a musical comeback after an ultra-public meltdown induced by the death of her mother. Searching for creative inspiration, Jocelyn is soon lured into a cult of unknown musicians run by a shadowy character named Tedros. In no time, much to her management team’s horror, she is under his control – sexually, artistically, and psychologically.
Let’s just get some unpleasantries out of the way: The Weeknd as Tedros is abusive and gross, and God Bless rising actress Lily-Rose Depp for giving it her all. But also: What in the actual fuck? I literally imagine everyone involved (the cis male creators, especially) thought they made high art and that’s the best part: It’s a delusional show by and about delusional people.
That said, I love “World Class Sinner,” and hold the earnest belief that it actually kind of slaps. “Padam Padam ” song of the summer, who? (See Joan Summers’ piece on this slutty Kylie Minogue banger.) I’m all about that earworm. “I’m a freak yeahhh” and “I’m a mothafuckin world class sinner” are sung with oddly uncanny, Britney-esque conviction by Jocelyn. Everyone involved in this show insists the Jocelyn character is not based on Britney, but is instead a composite of great, troubled pop starlets. I literally disagree! She’s giving Britney and Kevin: Chaotic, the reality show and the soundtrack.
Adding to the Britney lore is Jocelyn’s team comprising archetypal Hollywood monsters, played masterfully by Jane Adams, Hank Azaria, and Eli Roth, as her label head Nikki, manager Chaim, and publicist Andrew, respectively. Similarly, Hari Nef plays a cunning journalist named Talia who is determined to get the real scoop on Jocelyn and her “breakdown,” or why she’s staging a “comeback” with “World Class Sinner.”
Notice I didn’t add Da’Vine Joy Randolph’s character Destiny to this fucked band of fiends, who, as Jocelyn’s other manager, and a Black woman, adds some much needed heart and soul to a series with virtually none at all. (Of course it’s a Black woman who saves the day.) Likewise, snaps for Rachel Sennott, who, as Jocelyn’s worried yet passive assistant Leia, is the show’s sole voice of reason. As such, she is promptly told to shut the fuck up anytime she voices rightful concern. As the self-insert character, her constant scrunched up facial expressions of disgust represent us all at home!
Rounding out the cast of hangers-on include Troye Sivan as Jocelyn’s inept creative director/former childhood co-star who still dreams of stardom, and Blackpink’s Jennie as Dyanne — this spelling! — an ambitious “World Class Sinner” backup dancer who is positioned as a villain vying for messy Jocelyn’s spot. If this is another live-action The Little Mermaid, perhaps Dyanne is Ursula? Or is Tedros the one coming for Joss’ precious pipes? Anyway, Dyanne as a villain is notable because she’s better than Jocelyn, and also because she has an unfair advantage as a literal member of Blackpink. Elsewhere, Tedros’ flock of pimped-out, small-time singers is played by real-life big-time singers Suzanna Son, Moses Sumney, and Ramsey.
Back to Jocelyn. Despite being flatter than wallpaper, the script asks the audience to believe she is a fierce, dominant pop goddess. Consider the name “Jocelyn,” which is not quite the name of a huge star. The whole thing, especially Tedros’ little cult, gives The Idol a Lifetime Original Movie flavor. I love how serious it all is! The pretension and perhaps even the creative intention is apparent, minus the execution, and yet it’s as messy and unsexy as Showgirls; yet it lacks that film’s winking sense of humor amid its dead-eyed seriousness.
The entire concept of Jocelyn’s skimpy wardrobe reminds me not only of Showgirls, but of Nicole Daedone, the fallen CEO of that disgusting fingering/ orgasm cult, called OneTaste. At the height of her cult leader powers, she made a little movie called Dare to Be Seen. (The cover image gives masquerade ball during Mardi Gras, but the budget is volunteer.) The movie itself delves into the realm of satanic ritual after everyone in the central cult is forced to sit around and watch Nicole get OM’d. OM stands for “orgasmic meditation,” and let’s face it, it’s basically just fingering. This mess and more is chronicled in the Netflix documentary, Orgasm, Inc, and is definitely worth a watch.
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There’s a scene in episode 4 of The Idol where Jocelyn essentially gets fingered by Tedros – OM’d, anyone? – while behind the mic in the studio as she sings a nasty little song called “Fill the Void.” Everyone in the studio (read: everyone in Tedros’ little cult) watches this go down with facial expressions of disgust and disdain, but no one stops it. While Jocelyn is clearly in an abusive cycle with this rattailed Tedros figure, the subtitles turned a tragic TV moment into pure, unintentional comedy gold. “Jocelyn moaning.” “Ohhhh, yeah, yeah, yeah!” are a few of the greatest hits.
Speaking of hits, “Fill the Void” is now available to stream. Like “World Class Sinner,” it weirdly slaps.
This is a show made for someone who saw Vox Lux — another so-bad-it’s-good movie with Natalie Portman as a sci-fi-inspired pop star named Celeste who survived a school shooting as a kid — three times in theaters despite its limited screenings. I even forced friends to come with me for laughs.
Unlike Vox Lux, most people I know found the first episode or two of The Idol so upsetting they couldn’t continue. I completely understand that, as a baseline, thoughtful people can’t stomach such obviously misogynistic material. Which, as if to both nod at and anticipate this criticism, the show features a moment in the season finale relayed by Jocelyn’s publicist Andrew, who says that “moronic” company employees staged a walkout over her new music’s “misogynist lyrics.” Perhaps my enjoyment comes from a lifetime of trauma as a Black trans woman, or I’m just desensitized from living in a culture where rampant violence is normalized, but I can suspend plenty of disbelief to engage in media many might find too disturbing.
That said, more mess in the show includes:
A cum-shot-on-Jocelyn’s-face photo leak scandal that would only be scandalous in 2002! Two (2) unstimulating autoerotic asphyxiation scenes! Jocelyn masturbates with a glass of ice while listening to her sultry, breathy Tedros-inspired remix of “World Class Sinner” (we need this on streaming!), and apparently breaks the glass between her thighs? The way the budget seems to have been blown on the original take of The Idol due to pricey reshoots and rewrites and the show’s ousted female director, Amy Seimetz! The way most of the show takes place claustrophobically in The Weeknd’s mansion!
Tedros and Jocelyn’s voyeuristic sex play featuring chaotically evil lines such as: “Let me put my fat tongue on that pussy,” “Stretch that tiny, little pussy,” and “I want to choke you with my cock while I fuck you” – the latter proposed sex act (threat?) is simply anatomically impossible among two people. (The internet obviously had a field day, because no one actually says any of this unless they are joking and pretending to be in a Skinemax late-night adult feature). Also: Jocelyn is fully beaten with a hairbrush by Tedros after some crazy story she makes up about her mom beating her with a hairbrush!!! This, after he eats her out in the car on the way to Valentino – where he fucks her after she calls him gay!!! – only to go down on her again by her pool. All while Leia is present and flashing the most iconic stank face of disapproval on TV!
Other messes: electric shock collars used by Tedros on Moses Sumney’s character Izaak, essentially written as a stereotype of a Big Black Greased-Up Sex God, and Troye Sivan’s Xander character by a deviant Jocelyn! Bad BDSM has never been this bad. Except for Lifetime movies featuring hot muscled husbands turned murderous and maybe also that Nicole Daedone in-house flick and probably also the NXIVM cult’s whole bizarre branding obsession.
Somehow, these disparate (and desperate) events culminate in the worst season finale ever, where it’s “shockingly revealed” that saucy minx Jocelyn has actually been the puppetmaster the entire time. Not a terribly original idea to have a femme fatale twist in the end, but there you have it. Somehow, also, Tedros is framed as a victim of Jocelyn’s, yet it’s apparently fuck Dyanne, who, after taking Jocelyn’s place temporarily, loses her record deal after Jocelyn decides, in one fell swoop, to recapture control of her failing music career.
None of this makes any goddamn sense, the creators of this show are out of their fucking minds, and yet I’m obsessed: a rare breed of person who has a higher tolerance for deep layers of mess than most. I’m someone who occasionally finds humor in low-budget reenactments on true crime shows performed by X-list actors. And watches Baddies West and Joseline’s Cabaret on Zeus. And has a subscription to the New Yorker! Again I ask you, dear reader: why am I like this? Pray for me, and also pray for yourselves if you’ve made it through this show.
Watch The Idol and understand what a disaster it is, if you dare. But, it might be better to just stream its soundtrack, especially the Jocelyn numbers, which as I’ve said numerous times now, truly slap.