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The Idol: Nobody makes something this dreadful by accident

TV Review: A creepy male gaze-athon from Euphoria creator Sam Levinson and Abel Tesfaye. Let’s never speak of it again

Slammed at Cannes, Lily-Rose Depp’s The Idol arrives on Sky Atlantic with a lot to live up to. Is it really the sleaziest television ever made? The short answer is yes. The longer answer is yes and let’s never speak of it again.

Slithering out of the imagination of the Euphoria creator Sam Levinson, this music-industry drama (Sky Atlantic, Monday, 9pm) is so ludicrous there is surely a strong possibility it’s a metaprank by Levinson and his cocreator, Abel Tesfaye. Nobody makes something this dreadful by accident.

Tesfaye is better known as the pop star The Weeknd, which is also the length of time he must have spent taking acting lessons for The Idol. His biggest hit is called Blinding Lights, but here it’s the cardboard performance as a DJ turned pop Svengali that makes you want to cover your eyes.

He plays “Tedros” – not Tetris, as I initially thought – an “enigmatic” hustler who befriends a Britney-esque pop star, Jocelyn. She is portrayed without a whiff of self-awareness by Lily-Rose Depp, daughter of Johnny Depp and Vanessa Paradis. Jocelyn is introduced pouting at the camera at a photo shoot at which she insists on whipping her top off. A party-pooping intimacy co-ordinator encourages her to cover up – but, in a fearless display of female empowerment, she faces him down and continues disrobing. Take it from The Weeknd: getting your kit off for a sleazy photographer is the new girl-bossing.


The Idol comes to the screen fumigated in controversy, with its director Amy Seimetz having quit, supposedly when 80 per cent of filming was complete and allegedly because of creative differences with Tesfaye. According to Rolling Stone, Tesfaye was unhappy that the show had too much of a “female perspective”. “It went from satire to the thing it was satirising,” a crew member complained to the music magazine.

Such accusations will not be new to Levinson. With Euphoria he was charged with spinning a bizarre fantasy of teenagers as oversexed and drugged-up libertines. That series was partly rescued by its lead actress, Zendaya, who found hidden depths in Levinson’s shallow script. But Depp lacks either the ability or the inclination to put layers on the perpetually semi-naked Jocelyn.

She isn’t helped by dialogue that lands like an intern asked to write “pornographic Stanley Kubrick”. “He’s so rapey,” Jocelyn’s assistant says of Tedros’s character. “I kind of like that about him,” she giggles.

Tesfaye isn’t required to remove his clothes. His dialogue is every bit as toe-curling as Depp’s, however. “Pop music is the ultimate Trojan horse,” Tedros tells Jocelyn. But isn’t the ultimate Trojan horse … a Trojan horse?

The Weeknd’s music is vapid but seductive. With The Idol he replicates the first but forgets the second. It’s a creepy male-gaze-athon that feels like the work of someone who went back in time and stopped the #MeToo movement from happening. Here is A Star Is Born remade as A Star Is Porn – television so icky that getting it out of your system will take a cold shower and several rounds of therapy.