The controversial Sam Levinson and Abel Tesfaye, a.k.a. “The Weeknd,” feel like a match made in heaven. They both love Hollywood glitz. They often explore the darker sides of sex and pleasure. Neither hits 100% with their target audiences. You would argue they often alienate their fans. Yet at the same time, both find ways to remain relevant with their material in their field. HBO‘s latest drama, The Idol released its series premiere, “Pop Tarts & Rat Tales” tonight, and as usual, it’s set to create controversy for each creator.

Of note, The Idol – “Pop Tarts and Ray Tales,” features graphic nudity, sex crimes, and sexual violence. Discretion is advised.

The Recap – The Idol – “Pop Tarts and Rat Tales”

Musical artist Jocelyn (Lily-Rose Depp) attends a photo shoot. The photographer calls out various looks, and she matches them. We zoom out and see she’s lying on a table, in nothing but a robe and underwear. After several more shots, the crew steps in and touches up her makeup. The lighting crew makes their adjustments as we sit on the shot.

Leia (Rachel Sennott opens the curtains for Joss. She’s in a deep sleep in bed. When the light shines in, we can tell she sleep nude. She reaches over and drinks her coffee.

In the photo shoot, the camera flashes as a trio of representatives talks about the setup. Joss wears a hospital wristband, which stirs up some controversy. One of her reps Xander (Troye Sivan), says it might be the wrong message. Nikki (Jane Adams) tells him to stop sounding so prudish. “Let people enjoy sex, drugs, and hot girls.” She explains how mental illness is sexy. Chaim (Hank Azaria) agrees with her explanation, even when the message is upsetting.

The Icon Pop Tarts & Rat Tales

During the shoot, her breast becomes exposed. One of the record reps steps in and stops the shoot. Even though Jocelyn and her reps want the picture, the intimacy coordinator specifically negotiated a no-nudity rider for the shoot. Jocelyn calls out for Chaim, who is no longer present.

Destiny (Da’Vine Joy Randolph) pulls Chaim out of the shoot. She explains a photo just leaked on the internet. The picture of Jocelyn during a sexual encounter, and she took a selfie after receiving a facial. This is a bad look for the singer, especially now that it’s public.

Destiny and Chaim start pressuring Leia (Rachel Sennott) to reveal who did it. She stays at the house and knows everyone. Jocelyn walks over and asks what they’re discussing. When everyone falls silent, she complains about the intimacy coordinator. When she walks away, Chaim tells everyone to keep it secret.

He goes inside and takes the intimacy coordinator aside. They begin arguing while the shoot progresses in the other room. Jocelyn shows her breasts as the images of her leak to other members on set. Chaim pays someone at the house five thousand dollars to keep the intimacy coordinator locked in a bathroom.

Chaim goes back to the shoot and alerts Nikki about the photo. Benjamin (Daniel Levy) arrives and breaks down the situation. They’re trending on Twitter. Talia Hirsch (Hari Nef) from Vanity Fair arrives before they can finish the brief.

Jocelyn starts asking for her phone. She rushes upstairs to find it, but Leia gets her to return downstairs for her dance rehearsal. Nikki, Benjamin, Chaim, and Talia look over the background dancers practicing. They also explain that Jocelyn was present when her mother died from cancer. It’s implied it caused her to start using.

Andrew (Eli Roth) from LiveNation arrives at the front gate. He’s trying to spin the issue as a revenge porn incident. The guard stops Andrew because he cannot present his ID. He eventually gets in after berating the security guard.

Benjamin tells Talia that they refunded all the tickets for Jocelyn’s tour. They canceled part of the tour as well. Talia points out to the group that ticket sales resumed. Jocelyn is set to release a new single in a couple of weeks.

The Icon Pop Tarts & Rat Tales

Jocelyn walks by Talia and says hi. They speak quickly, but Leia moves Jocelyn to her dancers. Talia realizes no one has told Jocelyn yet. The singer joins her dance team, which Talia notes is Britney inspired.

Chaim and Andrew discuss the picture of Jocelyn. Andrew is worried that images like the one Jocelyn is creating will not move tickets. Xander joins Talia while Nikki meets with Andrew. The Live Nation exec is worried that Jocelyn is having a meltdown.

Jocelyn gets pulled from the dance routine and watches the team do the number from the sideline. While she does, she smokes a cigarette and realizes everyone is watching her. She steps up for the next routine and nails the routine.

The team pulls Jocelyn aside from the dance practice. They reveal the image is out and while she seems shocked, Jocelyn says it could be worse. The group agrees as she walks upstairs. Nikki wants to hear reporters praising Joss for her heroism, while Benjamin reminds her that he had to frame Joss as a victim.

Jocelyn heads upstair to the sauna, where she sees her best backup dancer. They agree to go out to the club. While she’s out, she’s swarmed by paparazzi. She gets into the club through the kitchen. When she hits the dance floor, the DJ calls her out. It’s Tedros (The Weeknd) who runs the club. He plays “Like a Prayer” and joins her on the dance floor. Leia watches from the bar, concerned for Joss.

Tedros and Jocelyn dance all night. After a montage, Leia starts looking for her. She’s with Tedros, and the two are about to have sex in the stairway. Leia calls out for Jocelyn, causing them to stop. In the stairwell, they discuss her music. She wants to make something more meaningful.

The Icon Pop Tarts & Rat Tales

Leia gets pulled onto the dance floor as well. We see her dancing with a guy when Jocelyn leaves. Jocelyn returns home and chokes herself while she masturbates.

Leia opens the windows the next morning. Joss speaks to Talia by the poolside. They talk about the photo, on and off the record. Joss does not believe that telling her account will do anything for her and is only to help the media.

Leia and Joss watch Basic Instinct. As they do, Joss asks if the new single is good. Leia tells her she needs to embrace the song because it’s good. Josselyn tells Leia she’s inviting Tedros over. Leia warns against it, but Joss insists.

Tedros arrives, and Leia tells him Joycelyn is still getting ready. He can make himself at home. Tedros walks over to a piano and begins playing. He then grand a drink from the bar. Leia watches him from the hall.

Tedros wanders into the bathroom. He does a bump and practices his pickup lines. Jocelyn descends down the staircase, where Tedros delivers his line. She mocks him for it. They drink and smoke together. Leia reminds Josselyn she’s set to wake up at 7 AM the next day.

Jocelyn brings Tedros downstairs, and they listen to her new song. She trusts him not to be a yes-man. As they listen, she has Tedros unbuckle her heels. She turns off the song and asks for his opinion.

The Icon Pop Tarts & Rat Tales

Tedros tells her it’s a good song and he understands why the label wants it out. It’s a hit. She questions its authenticity, and he asks her if she’s really a freak. She says yes, and he follows up with another question. Was this the first song she’s recorded since her mother’s death? Yes.

Tedros finally reveals his criticism. Her voice does not sound like a “freak” on the track. They continue foreplay as he caresses her with an ice cube. Tedros tells her she’s overthinking while she’s singing. He asks if she trusts him. He then ties her up. As she’s choking, he pulls out a knife and cuts a hole in her dress so she can breathe. Now she can sing.

The Episode Breakdown – The Idol – “Pop Tarts and Rat Tales”

Both extraordinarily dark and upsetting, “The Idol” series premiere promises an upsetting time on the horizon. The tragedy on the horizon is palpable. The Idol instantly steps into a fascination of both creators. Hollywood, fame, jealously and popularity quickly become centerpieces of the show. It’s exploitation is clear and while it’s upsetting to watch, it’s also absurd to deny.

At the same time, Levinson’s frustrations with the current industry are very much discussed. Levinson’s famed control over the Euphoria set led to several cast members finding diminished roles in its second season. The knowing jabs at intimacy coordinators and pornographic material draw from the experience of someone who has issues with these figures.

Creating a nod where those arguing against the use of these protections as heinous people works as both satire and admission. That does not excuse Levinson from the absurd behavior he’s been accused of. However, it’s also impossible to tell this kind of story without acknowledging the current landscape of the industry. It also points to a relevant fact: regardless of putting these guardrails on the system, many will work to subvert them.

Thus, most of The Idol – “Pop Tarts & Ray Tales” delivers two clear messages. Men will exploit women, and the post-#MeToo era has not curbed this abuse. While some speak loudly about their abusers, others have seen the backlash from the industry. These individuals are staying quiet, because the original #MeToo allegations did not remove all those in power from their places. Even worse, a town like Hollywood will always attract charismatic newcomers who will fill these voids.

In many ways, The Idol continues to tell the story of Babylon, but with less deference to existing film. With weeks to go, we will how Levinson and Tesfaye handle the story. Here’s hoping the instantly controversial series can prove there’s a reason for the madness.

Alan’s Rating: 8/10

What did you think of the series premiere of The Idol? Does it live up to the controversial hype? Watch The Idol – “Pop Tarts and Rat Tales” on Max.

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