Don't Just "Provoke" Me, Make Me Care
What To Watch Instead of "The Idol"
A great deal has been said about HBO’s recent collaboration between Sam Levinson, the man behind “Euphoria,” and Abel Tesfaye, also known as The Weeknd, in their joint creative venture with “The Idol”.
While I largely concur with the criticisms expressed by many critics, some labeling the series as “torture porn,” I must confess that I can't provide a comprehensive critique since I've only watched the pilot.
However, my intention here is not to delve into that aspect.
Just one episode was enough for me to reach my conclusion which was that I found no need to witness further instances of Lily-Rose Depp scantily clad doing her best work to portray a character somewhat “inspired by Britney Spears,” indulging in beautifully shot (kudos to the DP) and choreographed scenes of masturbation or endure the contrived and lazy writing methods through which Tedros ensnares her character in his manipulative web.
(Spoiler alert: I had already anticipated that the series would attempt to deceive its audience, revealing Lily-Rose Depp’s character as the ultimate manipulator and/or empowered millennial “feminist” at the end… which would supposedly justify the considerable time one would ultimately invest in watching it, to prove that point.)
During a press conference at Cannes, where the series made its world premiere, Sam Levinson stated, “We know that we're making a show that is provocative. It's not lost on us.”
In my current state as a 37-year-old woman and actor, far removed from being able to be the ingenue in film and television, I find the notion of something being labeled “provocative” to be utterly uninteresting. It compels me to question the true intention behind such a claim. What is it meant to provoke?
Frankly, when people make such comments, I catch myself physically yawning in response. The term has lost its ability to arouse genuine curiosity or engagement within me.
“The Idol” failed to elicit any emotional response or even a sense of concern because it felt disappointingly lackluster in its execution. By this, I mean both the writing and direction fell short. For instance, there was a visually stunning scene at the beginning of the first episode featuring a close-up of Lily-Rose Depp's face during a photoshoot, where her acting prowess was undeniable and as the audience, we were witness to the many emotional costumes her character puts on as an artist/performer as well as her complicity in the “creation” or product she is putting out into the World as a “commercially” successful artist.
However, the subsequent moment of intimacy with her character, where she was truly alone for the first time with us, was misguided and told us nothing about her. Instead of focusing on her face and capturing her essence or telling us something remotely truthful about the “real” human that she is - the camera panned to her ass and stayed there. This glaring misstep foretold the trajectory of the series.
By the end of the pilot, I had already lost all interest, and apathy took its place. It became evident that “The Idol” was a dated, unambitious, and unexciting attempt at exploring the intricate power dynamics that afflict female artists and women in general.
So as the credits rolled, I found myself in bed, hand covering my mouth, visibly perturbed to the point that my boyfriend remarked on my appearance, describing me as looking “tortured.” Consequently, we made the mutual decision to refrain from watching it together. It was clear that he, like many men, enjoyed it for its perceived allure, its “hotness,” and its “sexiness.” Regardless of what the creators, Levinson, Depp, or The Weeknd may claim, it was unmistakably a production made by men... for men.
In our present world, we have reached a saturation point with an abundance of so-called “provocative” content. However, mere sexuality on screens is no longer sufficient. At least for me.
As storytellers, shouldn't we bear the responsibility to strive for improvement?
Furthermore, I pose this question: as women actively involved in the art of storytelling, shouldn't we aspire to utilize our narratives, our bodies, our vulnerabilities, and our power in a more impactful manner? Shouldn't we relentlessly pursue a higher standard?
I acknowledge the undeniable talent of Lily-Rose Depp as an incredible actor, and I anticipate watching the series, at some point, solely to witness her work as an actor. I also respect her comments regarding her experience in making the series, although one must consider the limited options available to her for expressing her true sentiments.
Having expressed these thoughts, I chose to invest my time in three different series, each centering around women and their stories.
Allow me to share them with you now, as they embody, to me, a more compelling and meaningful approach to storytelling:
Happy Valley (Season 3)
“Happy Valley,” created and written by Sally Wainwright, is a gripping British crime drama series that delves into the dark underbelly of a small town and the relentless pursuit of justice by its resilient protagonist.
Set in the picturesque but troubled Calder Valley in West Yorkshire, the story follows Catherine Cawood, played by the thunderous talent that is Sarah Lancashire, an experienced and determined police sergeant haunted by personal tragedy. Catherine finds herself caught in a web of crime and violence as she becomes entangled in a complex case involving drugs, kidnapping, and the local criminal underworld.
As Catherine doggedly investigates the crimes, she must confront her own demons and navigate the challenges of her strained personal relationships. Her troubled family history and a dangerous connection to one of the perpetrators further complicate matters, placing her in the midst of a deeply personal and emotionally charged battle.
Amidst the gritty and sometimes harrowing events, “Happy Valley” explores the complexities of human nature, the struggle for redemption, and the indomitable spirit that drives Catherine to pursue justice, even at great personal cost, relentlessly.
With its exceptional writing, nuanced character development, and authentic portrayal of both the resilience and vulnerabilities of its characters, “Happy Valley” stands as a thought-provoking and intense crime drama that captivates viewers from start to finish.
Sarah Lancashire's portrayal of Catherine Cawood in the third season of "Happy Valley" is a tour de force. Her magnetic presence, nuanced delivery, and unwavering commitment to her character make her performance truly unforgettable. Lancashire's ability to command the screen and bring depth to every scene solidifies her status as one of the finest actors of her generation.
She literally should have been nominated every season of this show and it’s a crime she hasn’t been tapped by Hollywood in the same ways some of her peers have. Just saying.
The Serpent Queen
“The Serpent Queen,” starring Samantha Morton, is a captivating historical drama series that brings to life the intriguing story of Catherine de Medici, a powerful and influential queen of France. Set against the backdrop of 16th-century Europe, the series follows Catherine's rise from an Italian noblewoman to the queen consort of France, showcasing her cunning intellect, strategic prowess, and unwavering determination.
Telling Catherine's story today holds significance as it sheds light on a powerful female figure who defied societal expectations and navigated a patriarchal world with cunning and intelligence. (Not through her body or sexuality - but in spite of it).
By exploring Catherine's journey, “The Serpent Queen” highlights the complexities of power, politics, and the relentless pursuit of influence. It invites viewers to reflect on the dynamics of power and the often treacherous path women have had to tread in order to claim agency and shape their destinies.
Additionally, the series examines Catherine's role in a time of religious conflict, mirroring contemporary discussions on religious intolerance and the consequences of fanaticism. Furthermore, “The Serpent Queen” underscores the enduring relevance of history and the valuable lessons it imparts. By delving into Catherine de' Medici's story, the series inspires dialogue about gender, power, and the indomitable spirit of women throughout history.
By weaving together history, gender dynamics, and themes of power and influence, “The Serpent Queen” serves as a poignant reminder of the importance of celebrating and understanding the stories of remarkable women who shaped our past and continue to inspire us today.
A lot has been said of “1883,” created by Taylor Sheridan… and maybe it’s old news. But I want to talk about it from a different perspective.
To this day, I am still moved to tears when telling people about this series, and urge everyone to dive in. Not just because it gives you a greater appreciation for “Yellowstone” but because it stands on its own as one of the greatest Westerns ever made, in film or television.
It ventures into the untamed American frontier, highlighting the remarkable strength and resilience of its female characters while redefining the genre's portrayal of Love.
Set in the late 19th century, “1883” follows the Dutton family as they embark on a perilous journey from Texas to Montana in search of a better future. Yes, it is the origin story of “Yellowstone”. But it’s so much more than that.
Led by women of unwavering determination, the series places female characters at the forefront, showcasing their agency, resourcefulness, and unwavering spirit in the face of adversity. The whole cast is incredible, and Faith Hill and Tim McGraw both prove themselves to be exceptional actors, but it is Isabel May who delivers the stand-out performance as Elsa Dutton, bringing to life a character you truly fall in love with and care about. (How she hasn’t been nominated for every award is CRIMINAL.)
Through their trials and triumphs, “1883” challenges traditional Western narratives and amplifies the power of women as central figures in shaping their own destinies.
Taylor Sheridan, as a writer and creator/showrunner, is making a significant impact by transforming the Western genre into a platform for championing female characters. (Beth Dutton from “Yellowstone” might just be my favorite female character of all time!) He defies stereotypes and empowers women by providing them with complex storylines, rich character development, and equal footing in the narrative. In doing so, he challenges long-standing gender norms, demonstrating that women can be powerful forces in rugged and challenging landscapes, capable of shaping their own narratives.
Moreover, Sheridan's influence extends beyond empowering female characters.
“1883” reimagines the role of love in the Western genre, offering a more nuanced and heartfelt exploration of romantic relationships. By emphasizing love as a driving force in the characters’ lives, Sheridan adds emotional depth to the story. This redefinition of love within the Western framework creates space for tenderness, vulnerability, and complex emotional connections, challenging the traditional portrayal of stoicism and machismo.
Through all of his series, but particularly in “1883,” Taylor Sheridan is reshaping the Western genre by presenting a narrative that celebrates the strength, resilience, and agency of women. By providing robust character arcs and expanding the thematic scope to include the power of love, Sheridan breaks new ground and paves the way for more inclusive and authentic storytelling in Western dramas, and “1883” serves as a testament to Sheridan's commitment to portraying diverse narratives and showcasing the multifaceted nature of human experiences within the rugged and unforgiving landscapes of the American frontier.
Looking forward to hearing/reading your thoughts in the comments!