The Idol began generating controversy long before its recent premiere at Cannes Film Festival.
The show, which was directed by Euphoria’s Sam Levinson and stars Lily-Rose Depp and The Weeknd, was the subject of a Rolling Stone exposé after claims of toxic leadership and problematic sex scenes emerged.
While the outlet’s descriptions of “torture porn” gave us a pretty good idea of what went down during the show’s filming, we couldn’t be sure of what to expect from The Idol until it was actually released.
Now that The Idol is finally here—so are the reviews. Here’s what the critics had to say.
Variety’s Peter Debruge wasn’t impressed by the show, writing, “The Idol plays like a sordid male fantasy…”
“The script seems calculated to fool audiences into thinking they’re observing how Hollywood operates, when so much of it amounts to tawdry clichés lifted from Sidney Sheldon novels and softcore porn…
“Zeitgeist-shaking TV series can be a delivery device for subversive social critique. Trouble is, Levinson’s worldview seems corrupt. It shouldn’t take degradation and suffering to make Jocelyn stronger. Euphoria audiences won’t be too surprised by the shameful way he treats Depp’s character, as both she and the show appear trapped under The Weeknd’s thumb.”
The Hollywood Reporter
The Hollywood Reporter’s Lovia Gyarkye seemed to agree when she described the first two episodes of the series as being “more regressive than transgressive.”
“It’s always a bit suspicious when shows try to market themselves as edgy. What are they trying to prove? This obvious effort to make The Idol appear controversial took an ironic turn. The show, initially billed as an exploration of the seedy underbelly of Hollywood and the music industry, became what it tried to satirise.
“Instead of subtly skewering the misogynistic and predatory nature of the business, The Idol became a forbidden love story—the stuff of a toxic man’s fantasy.”
The Los Angeles Times
Mary McNamara from The Los Angeles Times has described The Idol as not as “shocking as it thinks it is.”
The reviewer also has something to say about the show’s steamier scenes, writing “With several sex scenes that are graphic (especially aurally) even by HBO standards, the term ‘porn’ is not inaccurate, though it’s tough to imagine anyone would consider any of the action erotic when it is so ham-fisted.”
Vanity Fair’s Richard Lawson also struggled to find the shock in the show, describing it as “certainly trying hard to shock and titillate us.”
“There’s something oddly prosaic about what I’ve seen so far. There’s a slight awkwardness, too, as if Levinson and his actors are talking dirty for the very first time.
“Levinson’s whole deal is not for everyone—and often not for me—but The Idol offers up enough regular old entertainment to balance out his aggressive flourish and the bluster of his thematic ambitions. Just don’t approach the first two episodes with any notion that you are about to see something startling and transgressive. Maybe that stuff is coming in later episodes, but thus far, The Idol is way too Top 40 to rattle the squares.”
Time’s Stephanie Zacharek has described The Idol as pretending to “expose exploitation while reveling in it.”
So far, Deadline’s Damon Wise is one of the only critics to not slam the show, describing it as “riveting” and “highly sexualised performance”, which is “grounded and often vulnerable, discomfitingly addressing the fine lines between porn and art”. He also sees it as something that highlighted the “power and exploitation that have faced young women in the music industry for years.”