What was set out to become HBO’s biggest show of the Summer has become HBO’s most controversial show. Since its debut, Sam Levinson’s The Idol has been starting conversations for all of the wrong reasons.

Credit: HBO

From creator of the hit series, Euphoria Levinson’s new show features pop star, The Weeknd (Abel Tesfaye) and Lily-Rose Depp. The series is self-proclaimed as “the sleaziest love story of all time,” yet according to viewers the show was definitely sleazy, though lacked any true romance.

Breaking Down the Controversy

In an article by Rolling Stone, the show was riddled with controversy and backlash before it even aired.

The article is based on interviews with 13 cast and crew members noting the dark twist in creative direction. The series was originally set to release in November 2022, however had a major change in direction when the show was 80% finished.

The original director, Amy Seimatz, envisioned a dark satire of fame with a feminist lens however departed from the project and was replaced by Sam Levinson. The change in direction, took a concerning turn, with one source comparing levinson’s direction to “sexual torture porn.”

Another source from the Rolling Stone article notes that co-creator, The Weeknd, requested several re-shoots. “It was like The Weeknd wanted one show that was all about him (and) Sam was on board with that,” the source says, observing how the feminist lens of the series was dropped.

“It was a show about a woman who was finding herself sexually, turned into a show about a man who gets to abuse this woman and she loves it,” the source says.

Deadline further reports that The Weeknd was unhappy with the show’s direction, feeling as if the show was “leaning too much into the female perspective,” he says.

The miniseries follows pop idol Jocelyn, played by Lily-Rose Depp who is attempting to release new music after a breakdown caused by the death of her mother. Jocelyn then meets slimy nightclub-owner, Tedros played by The Weeknd.

The episodes follow these two characters closely as Tedros helps Jocelyn find her new sound through questionable techniques. These techniques being another reason why ‘The Idol’ has caused an uproar of controversy.

Overtly Sexual Themes

In episode 3, “Daybreak”, Jocelyn admits that her mother was abusive, using a hairbrush to hit her as a form of punishment. The episode ends with Tedros then utilising said hairbrush to hit Jocelyn just as her mother did as a method to creatively motivate her into making music. Strange, right?

Credit: HBO

It is these unnecessary nudity scenes and over sexualised themes that raise concerns that the show glamorises misogyny and sexualises trauma.

The Creepy Mind Of Sam Levinson

The Rolling Stone’s exposé further investigates potential scenes from the script that were cut out. These scenes were reportedly disturbing, violent, and sexual between Depp and The Weeknd. One being a scene where The Weeknd becomes turned on by beating up Depp’s character and scenes that verge on rape.

Scenes like these are expected of Levinson. Audiences of Euphoria are well aware of his creepy reputation and his accusations of encouraging actresses to shoot unnecessary nude scenes.

However, Depp has defended this accusation, stating that she has “never felt more respected and safe” on the set.

She continues, “when it comes to the nudity and the risqué nature of the role, that to me was really intentional.

“That was really important to me and something that I was excited about doing. I’m not scared of it. I think we live in a highly sexualised world. I think that’s an interesting thing to explore.”

Although, Depp expressed the sexual independence the show gave her, it was poorly executed in the series.

What Levinson thought would be empowering was instead shallow and extremely of the male gaze. These scenes were a missed storyline opportunity to explore Jocelyn’s journey of rediscovering her body and sexuality while overcoming her trauma.

The Jumbled Storyline

As audiences hate watched the long five episodes, they continue to watch Jocelyn being manipulated by Tedros as he begins to shape her music career. From these actions, it was clear that Tedros is the villain of the story.

The fifth episode, ‘Jocelyn Forever,’ is when the gears start to change. Instead of being the subservient partner to Tedros, Jocelyn seemingly flips.

The episode opens with Jocelyn recording a new song with pretty questionable lyrics: “force me, and choke me, till I pass out… My kind of love.”

By this episode, Tedros is a hazed mess. Constantly found drinking and spaced out, he attempts to input his opinion on the new song.

Jocelyn completely disregards him, to which Tedros replies, “the song’s about me, without me. No song.”

Yep, totally Tedros. Because you really helped her out by spanking her with a hairbrush.

It seems now that Jocelyn gains independence, which most viewers are all for. However, the pacing of the series and lack of character development just seems unrealistic given the trauma that Jocelyn goes through.

Towards the middle of the episode, Jocelyn completely takes over Tedros’ cult. She claims that the cult members are ‘her’ people, telling Tedros to “shut the f*ck up,” when he tries to interject.

What is the Plot, Though?

The ending of the season finale jumps 6 weeks in time. Jocelyn has released new hits and is preparing for her sold out show. Her team of managers are ecstatic, her fans ready for her comeback, and Tedros is completely out of her life… Or is he?

It is here that the audience learns the big shocking plot twist that Jocelyn is actually the mastermind villain?

Yeah, we’re shocked too.

As Jocelyn prepares for her concert, Tedros arrives backstage with a special artists pass given by Jocelyn.

At this point, Tedros’ reputation completely ruined with the IRS after him, and his nightclub no longer standing, we see a timid side to Tedros.

Tedros and Jocelyn reunite once again but he notices the hairbrush on the counter: “Did you say this was the brush your mom beat you with? It’s brand new,” to which Jocelyn says nothing but smiles sweetly.

This plot twist implies that Jocelyn wasn’t the one being manipulated, but she was the one in control after all.

The new information left a weird feeling in our stomachs and new questions arising. Are we as viewers meant to feel sorry for Tedros? Are we meant to suddenly hate Jocelyn after watching the pain she has gone through?

Jocelyn finalises this twist by bringing Tedros onto the stage, claiming “you’re mine forever.”

Credit: HBO

In a featurette unpacking the episode, Lily-Rose Depp explains that “Jocelyn is a very strategic and calculated person. She knows exactly what she wants, and she’s gonna stop at nothing to get it.

“I think a lot of the audience will watch the first few episodes and think that this guy is taking advantage of her. By the end he realises she knows exactly what she’s doing, and she knows exactly what she’s doing.”

After 5 long excruciating episodes, are we expected to believe this whole time that this tortured and broken pop star actually had the reigns in this whole situation? Is this Sam Levinson’s twisted idea of feminine power and the industry?

Can The Idol Score a Second Season?

The show’s plot twist is meant to be satisfying. A win for the girls as Jocelyn plays her game of revenge on a manipulating man. Instead, the show feels like a mansplained version of female empowerment.

I’ll admit, from the first episode, we have no idea what to expect. But the lack of any character depth, unnecessary nudity, and unrealistic scenarios just make zero sense. And why does the season just end like that?

The show has yet to reveal if a second season is on the rise. However it is still unclear whether viewers will be keen to step into this world again.

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