“Idol” isn’t good enough to be shocking

The thing to understand about Sam Levinson is that he is a hacker. He doesn’t have ideas, but rather aesthetic preferences, obvious reference points, and industry grievances that he wants to convey as ideas. Watching his movies and TV shows is a lot like scrolling through Tumblr in 2012, and he seems to believe that being a transgressor means making Twitter mad at him. He leaves an impression on the reader Easy riders, raging bulls once and built an entire persona based on it. I get that he wants me to believe that he’s here to put sex, drugs, and rock and roll into popular entertainment, but to recast his latest series pilot, the idol which premiered on Max last night. I do not believe you:

The idolCo-written by Levinson, Reza Fahim, and Abel “The Weeknd” Tesfaye, A Different Kind of Hack ostensibly follows the trials and tribulations of a pop star named Jocelyn (Lily-Rose Depp) and the car behind her. is readying his comeback album after a psychotic episode that is hinted to have followed his mother’s death. Joseline is the type of Britney Spears we’re led to believe was once successful despite being named Joseline. The show opens with him in a career slump in desperate need of a hit record.

While navigating her release schedule, Jocelyn meets Tedros (Tesfaye), a sleazy nightclub owner who makes his way into her life and supposedly takes it over (I’ve only seen one episode). The series was originally put in the hands of Amy Seimetz, who was unceremoniously fired after filming 80 percent of the scenes. Her version of the show supposedly followed a pop star struggling to cope with a predatory cult guru and the music business in an attempt to regain her agency. I don’t know if it would have made a better show, but based on my impressions of the pilot, it could have been more interesting.

Much of this first episode is spent parodying the pop music business in a much worse version Popstar. Never Stop Never Stop. The episode is filled with managers, managers, PR professionals and creative directors. The show is practically pointing at these characters and yelling. Look how stupid they are! They say “weird” things like “mental illness is sexual”. These small parts are filled with highly qualified actors like Hank Azaria, Eli Roth, Dan Levy, Jane Addams, and Rachel Sennot, all presumably there to imbue a flat, typical script with real personality.

Much of the comedy in the first episode centers around the intimate relations coordinator at the album photo shoot, who argues that Jocelyn bares her breasts on camera because current protocol requires them to show a clear contract driver. that Jocelyn agrees to bare her breasts for the album cover/booklet. It’s an eye-popping way for Levinson to mock the concept of intimacy coordinators and Hollywood’s clumsy attempts to create a new security infrastructure on set. There is much to mock these attempts to correct the many ways industry abuses its workers, but Levinson has no real thoughts or insights. Isn’t this so stupid? and: Why can’t a beautiful woman strip on set whenever she wants? Naturally, Levinson really, really wants it to be clear that this character totally wants to strip.

It’s a scene that neatly captures the biggest failure of Levinson’s entire supposedly erotic media project, which his other show, euphoria, also fits. Levinson always wants to show us sex and nudity, but never serves eroticism for its own sake. Instead, we just get a series of provocations, each aimed at different coordinators of intimacy that Levinson believes fill his audience.

At one point, Jocelyn and her assistant/friend Leia (Sennot) watch Basic Instincta not-so-subtle attempt to install The idol from the film lineage. But the thing Basic Instinct is that it is quite hot; Sex oozes from every line of dialogue, every glance, every puff of a cigarette, and of course every stroke. It’s because of this genuine commitment to eroticism that when the film shocks and goes too far, it actually resonates.

Levinson is a classic millennial artist in the imagination of many neo-authors because he wants it both ways. He wants to be seen as an avant-garde, controversial artist who shocks the sensibilities of “pseudo-progressive” America, but he can’t be so shocking or adventurous that funding for his next project is in doubt. In the end, he’s content to feed his ego by making people mad on social media. Meanwhile, audiences are left with these generic versions of better art done by David Lynch or Brian DePalma.

As someone who misses sex and eroticism in film, things like that The idol depresses me more than today’s completely sexless blockbusters. No one involved in this show is all that interested in sex as a way to turn viewers on. The sex scenes in the first episode are vanilla, and as always, Levinson seems more invested in the technical process than what’s happening on screen. We get a lot of his signature slow motion and neon lighting, but even that stuff isn’t very good here. After two seasons of the hit TV series and multiple movies, he still clearly wows Scorsese, Lynch and Fincher in obvious ways. Nothing going on here is as adventurous, dangerous, or even gloriously scary as all the behind-the-scenes coverage would have you believe, and that’s what’s most disappointing. All you have here is another boring prestige drama.

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