The star-studded HBO show ‘The Idol’ has, in its first three episodes, been widely considered a poorly acted very sexy tour of privileged celebrities experiencing deeply human emotions. As viewers, we have been spoon-fed sex, drama and characters we cannot trust, yet we enjoy watching them. It is hard to describe the feeling of watching shameless and utterly superficial characters snort cocaine, screw one another in the dressing rooms of Valentino stores and enter into complex business negotiations with the exploitation of one talent (Jocelyn - Lily-Rose Depp). What is this show trying to tell us? to distrust ladder-climbers? Is it telling us that Hollywood is more grit than glamour? Countless nations across the world are enduring famine, ravenous inflation, corporate extortion and attempting to regain a once tangible trust in governance.
This show, ‘The Idol,’ is pure escapism with a magnificent synth-heavy soundtrack, courtesy of Mike Dean. It is a welcome lull in a world coming to grips with globalization and its consequences while empathy for the most vulnerable populations is sorely lacking.
Let's discuss grief, exploitation, vulnerability and why the feeling of exploitation is so familiar to us all. If you’re not thinking about Ukraine’s sovereignty then you are wondering if Turkish people are surviving the harsh winter after their horrible earthquake. If you’re not thinking about if paying your bills will leave you enough money for food, if you’re not thinking about that one friend who insists you invest in crypto-currency following the collapse of the Silicon Valley Bank and Deutsche Bank, if you are not thinking about the widespread famine in the horn of Africa and if you are not focussing on the abundant crises of our modern times then you are likely distracting yourself, escaping, and who can blame you?
Who can blame anyone for not wanting to think about why in 2023, we have not yet achieved global harmony and utopia? Is distraction the best we can do? Is ‘The Idol’ the best we can do? Has ignoring our problems ever fixed anything? They say suicide is a permanent solution to a temporary problem, but when the problems of our world feel so persistent it is worth asking, short of suicide, is distracting ourselves enough to make us feel better?
HBO has offered a very timely escape, with one inescapable flaw. The woes of Hollywood stars pale in comparison to the world’s problems, they are for the most part sourly unrelatable unless you are Dua Lipa. If Dua Lipa is the intended audience, it is an incredible show. The show leaves a bad taste in the mouths of many people who are truly suffering, not Hollywood suffering.
For Abel Tesfaye (The Weeknd), who cut ties with the producer, Jeremy Rose, who produced his first three tapes (House of Balloons, Thursday, Echoes of Silence) essentially making him a star with his signature production, only to turn his back on him and re-release those same albums as ‘Trilogy’ without him, to create something so shallow (given that he was once homeless) is cause for viewer’s indigestion. If Tesfaye had starred as an underdog rather than a predatory music manager he would have found an audience willing to make fewer jokes about his acting.
Why do we, as a society, watch television? To escape or further question the human condition and see it reflected back to us, we watch television to find solace in following the stories of people who can emulate our shared humanity. What humanity is to be found in characters who constantly manipulate and exploit one another? The same can be said of Netflix’s acclaimed series ‘House of Cards’ series. The shallow and cold-hearted politics of Hollywood show business can be compared to politics, so what does this say about society? Why do we watch it? There is a saying in screenwriting, “Mine or dig for deep human truth.” There is a truth to the nature of politicians being duplicitous and turning on one another for personal gain, there is a truth to almost everything we see on the silver screen. What is the truth in ‘The Idol’ and is it of value to society at large?
Given that HBO has chosen a staggered release, despite the fact that they could release all the episodes at once yet have chosen to buck the trend of binge-watching (for better or worse), I cannot surmise the show or have a fully formed opinion. My observation of this series so far, in its first three or four episodes, is that the show is a warning to wanna-be celebrities or those with silver-screen dreams and aspirations of celebrity, the warning is that no matter how badly you want to be the mecca of attention, someone else will always have their hands on the cross of the marionette, pulling your strings in order to milk you for greater profit. The saying that “money is the root of all evil” is a theme of ‘The Idol’ and we watch it because money is a part of our everyday lives, we are so familiar with the value of money. This show is for the predatory businessmen and the star-status-seeking people of the world. Perhaps during a cost-of-living crisis across many countries, we have a desire and a guilty craving to watch exploitation, because the underlying feeling in all societies is that governance is often flawed, mismanaged and exploitative. We have Stockholm syndrome and we want to get off on it because we are sick and the cure (world peace or utopia) is not readily available.
HBO’s ‘The Idol’ (2023) was directed by Amy Seimetz until late April of 2022 (for reasons unknown) and her role was then taken over by Sam Levinson