‘The Idol’ Premiere: Was It as Bad as Everyone Predicted? (POLL)

The Weeknd and Lily-Rose Depp in 'The Idol' series premiere
Eddy Chen/HBO

After a slew of bad press following its Cannes 2023 debut, The Idol premiered on Sunday, June 4 on HBO. The series was so lambasted by early viewers, the network didn’t make episodes available to critics ahead of the release date, leaving just the initial Cannes reaction — and a scathing report detailing alleged on-set troubles from Rolling Stone — as the main informative pieces about the show.

Starring The Weeknd (Abel Tesfaye) and Lily-Rose Depp as a cultish club promoter and a pop star on the rise, The Idol (created by Tesfaye and Euphoria creator Sam Levinson) is meant to be an edgy look at how women are treated in the music industry (Depp’s Jocelyn is compared to Britney Spears in the first episode). The show features an eye-grabbing supporting cast with Dan Levy, Hank Azaria, Troye Sivan, Hari Nef, Di’Vine Joy Randolph, Jane Adams, BLACKPINK’s Jennie, Eli Roth, and more in its ranks, but initial reactions to the first episode say the supporting cast can’t make up for The Weeknd’s poor acting (Variety called it “nonexistent”) and seemingly equally nonexistent plot.

Jocelyn begins the series recovering from the death of her mother and returning from time in a mental health treatment center. She’s then embroiled in a sex scandal that arose after an explicit photo of her with bodily fluids on her face is leaked online, but her team scrambles to make sure she’s not aware of the leak. Fearing her comeback single is a dud that will draw in ridicule, she goes to a club to blow off steam, and that’s where she meets Tesfaye’s Tedros. Their chemistry is so intense for Jocelyn (though not to the audience…) that she goes home and masturbates while choking herself.

Later on, Jocelyn’s friend/assistant Leia (Rachel Sennott) describes Tedros’ vibe as “rapey,” and the pop star says that’s what she likes about him. When he comes over to her place for a hookup, he suffocates her with a red hood, waiting a beat before cutting a slit so she can finally breathe and instructs her to sing. Jocelyn appears to love the aggressiveness.

Fans on Twitter are confused about the moment’s purpose.

Others think the negative hype was a sign of people being too sensitive to the sexual content. But sex and nudity are far from new for HBO shows and their fans. It’s the intention behind the NSFW content that has viewers and critics alike scratching their heads.

Ahead of its release, The Hollywood Reporter said the series lacked structure and was inundated with gratuitous nudity. “You start to wonder if this is building to anything, and by episode two it seems likely that it’s probably not,” the review reads, adding, “There’s a strenuousness to the sex scenes between Depp and Tesfaye that kills any sense of eroticism.”

Critics have also noted that Depp’s constant nudity doesn’t justify its existence and that the “torture porn” sex scenes feel more like literal Hollywood exploitation than a commentary on it.

The Idol claimed to have a lot to say about Hollywood and the music industry. But so far, the only message seems to be, “isn’t this shocking?” Hopefully, the series will reveal its deeper meaning as the episodes progress, but based on initial reviews, it doesn’t seem Levinson figured out what that deeper meaning was beyond shock value.

What did you think of The Idol series premiere? Was it as bad as the Cannes reviews purported? Is it a worthy successor of Succession‘s former time slot? Let us know your thoughts on the episode in the poll below.

The Idol, Sundays, 9/8c, HBO