So much cringe in ‘The Idol,’ from the dumb dialogue to The Weeknd’s bad acting

Flat HBO series tries to comment on showbiz exploitation but mostly just wallows in it.

SHARE So much cringe in ‘The Idol,’ from the dumb dialogue to The Weeknd’s bad acting
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A creepy nightclub owner played by Abel “The Weeknd” Tesfaye seems to cast a spell on a major pop star (Lily-Rose Depp) on “The Idol.”

HBO

In the opening scene of the Max show-business melodrama “The Idol,” Lily-Rose Depp’s half-naked pop star Jocelyn is doing a photo shoot in her mansion as the photographer issues a series of off-screen notes: “Give me some innocence now … some doe-eyed looks … now mischievous, play with the camera … OK, pure sex now, that’s good, give me vulnerable … and now emotional …”

The camera eventually pulls back to reveal the small army of managers, handlers, publicists, assistants, et al., whose lives revolve around the career fortunes of Jocelyn, who is clearly modeled after Britney Spears and Miley Cyrus. Within a few scenes, it’s obvious “The Idol” is going for a 1990s erotic thriller vibe a la “9 ½ Weeks” or “Showgirls” (there’s even a scene in which “Basic Instinct” is playing on TV), but based on the pilot that premiered Sunday on HBO, “The Idol” doesn’t even have the campy trash factor of those films. It comes across as cynical, condescending, exploitative and flat.

At the photo shoot, we’re introduced to a coterie of sycophants who seem to have zero interest in Jocelyn as a person, as they discuss her as if she’s a box of cereal or a soft drink. Consider this exchange between Troye Sivan’s Xander, who is Jocelyn’s creative director, and Jane Adams’ Nikki, a record label executive.

‘The Idol’

Untitled

8 p.m. Sundays on HBO and streaming on Max.

Xander: “What is the image saying?”

Nikki: “That she’s young, beautiful and damaged.”

Xander: “The robe, the hospital wristband, are we romanticizing mental illness?”

Nikki: “Absolutely … mental illness is sexy.”

Ugh.

One supposes “The Idol” is going for an edgy commentary on the cynicism of show business and our obsession with the personal lives of pop stars, but it seems to be wallowing in the material rather than offering any kind of insight. Jocelyn’s outfits are about as substantial as a pair of shoelaces, and she seems equal parts bemused and disinterested in all the madness surrounding her, even after a scandalous photo of her is leaked, and her team scrambles to exert damage control. (The talented but wasted cast also includes Dan Levy as Jocelyn’s publicist; Eli Roth as a Live Nation executive; Hank Azaria and Da’Vine Joy Randolph as her co-managers, and Rachel Sennott as Jocelyn’s best friend and assistant.)

Lily-Rose Depp has a magnetic screen presence and does what she can with the role, but she’s stuck playing a third-rate version of the cliched troubled pop star we’ve seen in “The Rose” and various iterations of “A Star Is Born.”

“The Idol” segues from being an unfunny version of “Entourage” to something like an old episode of “Red Shoe Diaries” when Jocelyn meets a nightclub manager named Tedros (played quite terribly by Abel Tesfaye, aka The Weeknd, whose line readings are stiff and amateurish), who immediately casts some kind of spell on her, even though anyone who spends more than five minutes with this guy could see he’s a creepy poser. (When Jocelyn’s assistant later tells her Tedros has a “rapey” personality, she agrees — and says that’s why she’s intrigued by him.)

Nearly every snippet of dialogue is cringe-worthy, e.g. when Jocelyn tells a Vanity Fair reporter (Hari Nef), “We all have to answer to somebody,” and the reporter asks, “Who do you answer to?” and Jocelyn deadpans, “God,”

Then there’s this: When Jocelyn says, “Pop music is just superficial,” Tedros replies, “I think Prince would disagree with you.”

Oh yeah? I think Prince would want to send a cease-and-desist letter demanding they never mention him in this series again.

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