This week the misspelled union-mandated rest period The Weeknd debuted a new music-industry drama called The Idol (Sky Atlantic and Now). First, who is The Weeknd? Well, his first name is “The” and his family name is “Weeknd” and he is a contemporary pop-music person. What sort of Weeknd is the Weeknd? A busy one, involving a trip to Ikea and maybe a little golf if you can fit it between driving the kids to GAA practice and going to the dump. That’s just a guess.
The Idol was The Weeknd’s idea, but he is assisted by Euphoria creator Sam Levinson, who also took over as director after Amy Seimetz left last year. So now it’s nobody’s fault. HBO is probably already filing insurance claims on the basis that it’s an act of God.
There’s a long tradition of television satires of the music industry. Jem and the Holograms, for example, was the tale of a girl who fakes stardom with outrageous holographic technology while the true heroes of the show, another all-female band called The Misfits, struggled to chart due to Jem’s subterfuge. I believe this scene was called Riot Grrrl.
And then there are, of course, the Wombles, environmentally concerned, humanoid sheep-nudists with an important melodic message for humanity. “Remember you’re a Womble,” they sang in an attempt to implant Womblonian memories in our weak human brains. Few people saw the Wombles live, but it is said everyone who did formed a band. Ed Sheeran is a shaved Womble.
The Idol doesn’t really have the depth of either Jem and the Holograms or The Wombles. Its protagonist, Jocelyn (played by Lily-Rose Depp) is a chain-smoking pop star who is largely made of cheekbones and eyes. When we meet her she is doing a “sexy” photo shoot while an industry executive monologues about how this is feminist, actually. Is it feminist, actually? Nobody knows any more, and there’s no way to check.
At the behest of the photographer, the vacant songstress cycles through a variety of expressions – happy, sad, vulnerable, orgasmic – thus demonstrating the alienation and, also, horniness of the worker under capitalism. Before long she is throwing caution to the wind and goes topless, to the consternation of the on-set intimacy co-ordinator. Her manager locks the intimacy co-ordinator in the bathroom. This feels like a metaphor for the whole show. The entire project seems to yearn for the days when “intimacy co-ordinator” was what you called the person who drafted the NDAs.
As this is going on, a postcoital photograph of Jocelyn has gone viral, and various music-industry caricatures spout snappy dialogue about how to handle it. Jane Adams plays a music executive who says things such as “Stop cockblocking America” when people suggest her ideas are exploitative. Hank Azaria plays a music manager who is being strangled by an outlandish Italian accent. (“Itsa me, Mario!” he cries, or something to that effect.) It’s a great extended cast, in fairness. They quip and banter and give us chunks of exposition about the death of Jocelyn’s mother and her fragile mental state, but we barely notice.
The sex scandal is neatly resolved by the fact nobody cares about anything any more, so Jocelyn goes to a nightclub, where we learn that The Idol takes place in the extended Zoolander universe
All of these scenes are brightly lit and feel as if they were filmed separately by the crew of Entourage. All of the bits with Jocelyn on her own are slow and languorously dark and feel as if they’re from a perfume ad that was banned for being too stupid. Whenever Jocelyn appears in the same shot as the wisecracking industry folk, she looks as if she is superimposed on to the scene like a CGI Marvel character or Jessica Rabbit or Poochy from The Simpsons.
After the photoshoot Jocelyn practises a raunchy dance routine for her new single. “Remember you’re a Womble,” she sings as a dozen dancers pretend to have sex with her and the industry people watch from a balcony on a totally different day. (Full disclosure: I can’t physically deal with music made after 2010, so my brain defaults to Womble songs.)
The sex scandal is neatly resolved by the fact that nobody cares about anything any more, so Jocelyn goes to a nightclub, where we learn that The Idol takes place in the extended Zoolander universe. Farcically good-looking people pose and pout, drinking shots and engaging in cheesily “erotic” dancefloor frottage. (Frottage cheese – is that a thing?) They grind to all the hits: The Wombling Song, Wellington Womble, Wombles on Parade. They even dance to Madonna’s Like a Prayer, just to remind us what an actual pop idol sounds like.
Eventually, Jocelyn cops off with a charismatic sex pest and club impresario, Tedros (played by The Weeknd himself). It is unclear what attracts Jocelyn to Tedros. Is it the way he demands a dance with her? Is it his manky rat-tail haircut? Is it the way he wears sunglasses indoors? Is it the way he later wears a trench coat indoors? Is it the fact that he sometimes chomps on a toothpick? Look, these are all good reasons. After a night well spent, Jocelyn goes home to have a nice wank on the couch.
Eventually, Jocelyn emerges dressed as a 1970s vampire and they flirt unconvincingly. It feels as if I’m watching a porcelain duck having a relationship with a hat
The next day Tedros comes to Jocelyn’s house to listen to her new single (A Wombling Merry Christmas). He arrives wearing his trench coat, chewing his toothpick and shamelessly flaunting his rat-tail like a cheap hussy. As he waits for Jocelyn, he wanders around her house touching things, like a big weirdo. He makes drinks. He practises saying words in the mirror (not sure if they were meant to film this) and sniffs the couch cushions upon which Jocelyn masturbated earlier. This indicates, I think, that Tedros is some sort of wank psychic, and it points the way to a procedural spin-off in which The Weeknd solves wank-related crimes. They could call it Something for The Weeknd and it would be a smash hit.
Eventually, Jocelyn emerges dressed as a 1970s vampire and they flirt unconvincingly. It feels as if I’m watching a porcelain duck having a relationship with a hat. If in previous scenes Jocelyn resembled Jessica Rabbit or Poochy from The Simpsons, in these scenes Tedros resembles a stop-motion Thunderbird or Pob or a plank with a face drawn on it by a child. They flirt on, safe in the knowledge that chemistry is for nerds and that HBO has sunk too much money into this project to stop it now.
Tedros and Jocelyn listen to Jocelyn’s new song as Tedros takes off her shoes erotically and then rubs a glass of ice around her body erotically. There isn’t anything he doesn’t do erotically. I wouldn’t eat anything he gave me, to be honest. He listens to the lyrics carefully, much as he earlier snorted the wank pillow. “All day long we will be wombling in the snow. We wish you a wombling merry Christmas,” she sings.
“Is this the first song you recorded after your mother..?” he asks, probably sensing the depths of her loss in the poignant lyrics. Then he critiques her vocal performance in a sexual fashion because the intimacy co-ordinator is still locked in the bathroom. He throws a sheet over Jocelyn’s head and suffocates her for a bit because this is an “edgy” erotic drama when it’s not being a by-the-numbers industry satire or a terrible perfume ad.