Friday, July 19, 2024

Cannes: HBO Unveils “The Idol” Starring The Weeknd (Abel Tesfaye) and Lily Rose Depp in Vulgar, Gross Outsider’s Take on a Miserable Pop Life


Imagine if your favorite 4 star restaurant started serving frozen fast food.

HBO is the home of fine dining, offering meals like “Succession.” “Barry,” and “Hacks.” Even “Euphoria” has its moments.

But “The Idol” is grim, gross, and vulgar. It’s full of preposterous recycled ideas and pornish sex that would be at home on HBO’s Cinemax, not the main HBO which we know loves Emmy awards.

Jocelyn is the one name pop tart here. She, like all the characters, is vile. She’s also the victim of vile people like a mysterious nightclub owner named Tedros Tedros played by The Weeknd with the vigor of a park bench.

There was some advance idea that Tedros was a cult leader. But I’ll tell you who he is now that I’ve seen the show. Tedros Tedros is based partly on Tohme Tohme, the man who called himself a doctor and insidiously crept into Michael Jackson’s life the year before he died. I — this reporter — revealed at the time that Tohme was not a doctor and had a sketchy background. He wound up in all kinds of litigation with the Jackson Estate. I guess you could say he was a cult leader — with a following of one.

Jocelyn is supposed to be a combo of Madonna and Britney Spears. The show uses music and references to those singers to try and separate her from those stars. But Jocelyn is like warmed over left overs. There’s nothing unique or likeable about her. It’s not Lily Rose Depp’s fault that her characters main traits are pleasuring herself, and also pleasuring men so that ejaculated fluids are photographed on her face. And we see this in a photo that possibly Jocelyn has taken of herself and has now been leaked onto Tik Tok. (Leaked her devoted assistant, it would seem.)


“The Idol” doesn’t know much about the music business. The take is pretty much what tabloids think the music biz is, buying into gossip instead of reality. The show feels like soft core porn version of “Valley of the Dolls” without the wit or the irony. You also can’t tell if anyone is actually being serious. Jocelyn is surrounded by vampires who are supposed to be her “family” now that her beloved mother is dead. (The dead mother is an ingredient they’ve borrowed from Madonna, along with her puffed up cheekbones.)

In the two episodes we saw, besides Jocelyn masturbating several times, we also got to meet this venal family. Her advisors invited in a Vanity Fair reporter, played by transgender actor Hari Nef. (I wonder how longtime journalist Lynn Hirschberg will feel about this send up.) There is no way in real life that a reporter would be invited to have unblocked access to a superstar’s home with no publicist paying attention. The publicist in this case is played by Dan Levy of “Schitt’s Creek” who seems to think the show is a comedy. It’s not.

Among the other hideous people are the very good Jane Adams as a manager (I think), Eli Roth as a cliche obnoxious agent (that reads as antisemitic, sorry) from Live Nation (yes the name of the concert promoter is used), and Hank Azaria using a fake Israeli accent and sounding like his character from “The Birdcage” or even “The Simpsons.” Poor Hank– if he would just be allowed to sound like himself.

The show is ridiculous in its nature. The idea that a Miley, Demi, Britney would arrive in a nightclub, have sex with its owner on a staircase, then invite him to her mega-million cold-as-ice home for more sex and to remix her records– um, no.

On top of this, Jocelyn is a miserable, cliche of a pop artist. There’s nothing unusually good about her act. Her primary talent is having sex with herself. Musically she’s of no interest whatsoever. Her songs are banal disco-ey garbage, the kind you do hear on top 40 radio every day. But who cares? Nothing makes her special. Do we want to watch a TV series about her? From these two episodes, I was rooting against her — unlike, say, Zendaya’s character, Rue, on “Euphoria” — also from writer-director Sam Levinson.

But “Euphoria,” for all its sex and drugs, has a heart. It’s shocking, but there’s a reason. You know the people are heightened versions of reality, but they speak to each other in a relatable way. There is nothing relatable about these peope, except that you hate them.

Roger Friedman
Roger Friedman
Roger Friedman began his Showbiz411 column in April 2009 after 10 years with Fox News, where he created the Fox411 column. His movie reviews are carried by Rotten Tomatoes, and he is a member of both the movie and TV branches of the Critics Choice Awards. His articles have appeared in dozens of publications over the years including New York Magazine, where he wrote the Intelligencer column in the mid 90s and covered the OJ Simpson trial, and Fox News (when it wasn't so crazy) where he covered Michael Jackson. He is also the writer and co-producer of "Only the Strong Survive," a selection of the Cannes, Sundance, and Telluride Film festivals, directed by DA Pennebaker and Chris Hegedus.

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