spoilers, if you can call this a show that can be spoiled, are in this, plus, here's a content warning for discussing physical abuse
Last week I said The Idol wasn't living up to its "torture porn" rep from that Rolling Stone exposé. I take it back! It appears that we finally got there.
Now that there are three episodes of this show out, I can give my official assessment that the first halves of each Idol episode are interesting, funny, melodramatic skewerings of the music industry, and the second halves are different variations of treating wonky pseudo-BDSM like it's an early 1990s music video slash outtake from Tommy Wiseau's The Room. They're lining me up and knocking me down. By the time we got to Jocelyn's ritualistic hairbrush abuse ceremony, I was in Naomi Wolf mode.
And yet I cannot stop watching. This show is compelling, I'm sorry. I actually think they're trying to say something here. Here are some stray thoughts:
- Congratulations to Abel "The Weeknd" Tesfaye for crafting a truly repulsive TV character performance. Every time he starts speaking, I wish heartily that he would stop. He has shiny, cold eyes like the marbles I used to play with at my grandma's house when I was a kid. He's creepier than Radiohead's top hit. It's like someone taught him the phrase "gives me the ick" and he decided to make that his entire worldview.
- The nylon jacket he wears shopping on Rodeo is sick, though.
- The way he UNZIPS the jacket to reveal some extra chest when meeting Chaim and Destiny, Jocelyn's managers (? I still don't know people's job titles) is hilarious.
- He also had some great line deliveries this episode. Specifically, "I ain't gay."
- Opening the episode with Jocelyn getting road head in a fancy car speeding toward a shopping spree...because I can't shut up about Britney Spears, I just gotta say that as someone who was sentient during the tabloid craze of Britney's troubled 2007 and 2008, the idea of someone ditching their team for a weird dude and then going shopping is not out of pocket. The opening scene of "The Tragedy of Britney Spears," where Britney gets chased through a mall after slightly trashing a Betsey Johnson dressing room then leaves the scene with her new boyfriend Adnan Ghalid, is made more upsetting because Ghalid was a member of the paparazzi, one of the guys who had been chasing her down for months prior. And here we have Tedros using Jocelyn as paparazzi bait as they walk in the store, flooding her with positive attention while hard-launching their...whatever their relationship is. Attention and privacy, control and freedom, money-money-money: I thought this scene was great, and I don't know why anyone thinks Tedros is supposed to be some smooth operator when we all have to watch him, hunched against the wall like a cat expelling a hairball, jacking off in the VIP fitting room at Valentino.
- Anyway, it's not absurd to think of someone like Jocelyn, who has been in the music industry for a decade and is clearly exhausted by having to live up to so many expectations, throwing everything away for a new controlling person. The act of throwing everything away feels like control. A music label can refuse to release a single but they can't just physically kick a man out of your bed.
- We learn that the mother Jocelyn seems to miss so much was also physically abusive to Jocelyn when she was alive, right up until she was too sick to keep carrying the abuse out. Tedros, who coaxed this bit of information out of Jocelyn at an previously pleasant dinner, suggests to Jocelyn that her mother's absence, and the ceasing of the abuse, might be the cause of her current flop era. Then he offers to recreate the abuse. Now I'm no expert, but I've read enough Jezebel in my day to understand that conflating consensual kink with trauma-processing is kind of a no-no these days. But I don't think anything "good" or "instructive" is being shown here. There's a chorus of people online who would prefer art to not show anyone doing anything bad, because it means the art believes in that bad thing, and therefore the artist making it IS bad. I don't think the takeaway from this scene was "Tedros is a great guy and it's so nice how he's helping Jocelyn out." Now, was the length of the scene excessive? YES. Oh my god, make it staaaaahp.
- Lily-Rose Depp is crushing this role. She's got the sauce for sure and I hope she ends up in less fraught productions. When Chaim and Destiny come to check out Tedros, they leave thinking that Tedros sucks, but they also leave Jocelyn feeling more unappreciated than ever; when Chaim says something along the lines of "Get it together because no one believes in you right now," LRD's exquisite face bones seem to melt in response. Likewise her series of facial expressions when contemplating the use of her revenge porn photo as an album cover made me laugh out loud.
- What did I just type. What is going on in this show.
- The scene where everyone's like, chilling and vibing and getting stoned and recording music and lounging decoratively was also a perfect touch. We know Jocelyn has been sent around the world for million-dollar recording sessions, but has she ever been truly comfortable? Has she ever recorded music without feeling pressure from all sides? Cults work because they have something that draws you in, and in this case, the loose and convivial musical atmosphere — and the encouragement to write her own songs — might be even more intoxicating than whatever Tedros is serving up.
- Jocelyn is in the phase of her career where she realizes she's a product (a plastic doll, a la Gaga) and doesn't know how she can transform from product to Real Artist. Only thing is, these bohemian layabouts from Tedros's squad have the idea that pain and trauma are what makes good art. A common theory, a theory that I think is worth exploring in TV especially under the umbrella of pop music, and a theory that I think is getting increasingly debunked. Jeff Tweedy talked about this in his memoir Let's Go (So We Can Get Back): "Suffering obviously doesn’t create anything other than misery. There would be a whole lot more art in the world if it was only the product of suffering – I think artists create in spite of suffering, like anybody else." Hasn't Jocelyn suffered enough? Why does she need new trauma on top of her old trauma? They're doing trauma math that doesn't add up.
- Regardless, [Steven Tyler voice] Chaim's got a gun...we all know what happens when you see a gun in a television show...someone's gotta shoot it, in Chekhov style...who will shoot the gun??? Chaim? Jocelyn? Leia? Chloe? Tedros? Destiny? Nikki? Dyanne? Xander? The security guard at Valentino? The nutritionist who conquered Jocelyn's bloating problem only to get cruelly fired? Leia's cell phone? Jocelyn's elegant wine glasses? Tedros's vial of fentanyl-free cocaine? The condolence bong-carrying Mike Dean?
- Here's a photo I took of the face I was making at the end of the episode: