Euphoria Creator's New Show The Idol Lambasted By Critics Despite Standing Ovation At Cannes

The upcoming drama, starring Lily-Rose Depp and The Weeknd, has been branded "shameful" and "chauvinistic" in early reviews.
Lily-Rose Depp and Abel Tesfaye in The Idol
Lily-Rose Depp and Abel Tesfaye in The Idol

One of 2023’s most anticipated new shows, The Idol, received its worldwide premiere on Monday night at the Cannes Film Festival.

The new project from Euphoria creator Sam Levison and pop singer The Weeknd, who is now going by his legal name Abel Tesfaye, centres around a famous musician, played by Lily-Rose Depp, who attempts to her rebuild her life and career after experiencing a nervous breakdown while on tour.

After the first two episodes of the drama were screened at Cannes, The Idol received a five-minute standing ovation, though not every critic was quite so won over.

In reviews published after the screening, the show has been branded “shameful”, “chauvinistic” and “not as shocking as it thinks it is” by some critics.

In a scathing review, Variety said that the show “plays like a sordid male fantasy”, adding: “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.”

Lily-Rose Depp in character as Joss in The Idol
Lily-Rose Depp in character as Joss in The Idol

While The Hollywood Reporter also wrote that The Idol “shows glimmers of potential” when it isn’t “trying so hard to be shocking”, their review pondered: “It makes you wonder if in trying so hard to be transgressive, the show ultimately becomes regressive.”

Vanity Fair described The Idol as “trying hard to shock and titillate us”, but claimed the first two episodes felt “oddly prosaic” and with a “slight awkwardness”.

The LA Times agreed it was “not as shocking as it thinks it is”, while iNews went further, calling the first two episodes “one of the most unapologetically chauvinistic, superficially glossy, try-hard-provocative pieces of media in recent memory”.

On the other hand, Deadline’s review suggested it was too early to “make value judgments” about the show’s “morality and ethics, or, more substantively, the arguments about the male gaze and female body rights that are coming in the water like a stealth torpedo” after seeing only two episodes.

They did heap praise on Lily-Rose Depp’s performance, though, which they hailed as “riveting”, as well as “grounded and often vulnerable”.

Metro also gave it four stars, insisting it’s “so much more than just porn”.

“It’s not the most original of concepts, sure, but it’s a bold take with undeniable energy and top-class performances, not least from star Depp,” they said. “So let’s have faith in where it may go.”

Additional critics have also been having their say on Twitter since the initial Cannes screening:

Much has also been made about the show’s graphic content – most notably its approach to nudity and drug abuse – while in a separate piece, Variety specifically referenced one scene in which “revenge porn photos” are leaked of “bodily fluids on Depp’s [character’s] face”.

It’s worth noting that The Idol had already generated plenty of conversation long before anyone had actually seen it.

Back in March, Rolling Stone published a lengthy piece titled “How HBO’s Next ‘Euphoria’ Became Twisted ‘Torture Porn’”.

The article quoted over a dozen sources who detailed various alleged behind-the-scenes dramas from the set of The Idol that supposedly came about when Levison took over as director.

This piece also claimed the tone of the show shifted when Levison took over, moving “from satire to the thing it was satirising”.

The Idol will debut on screens next month
The Idol will debut on screens next month

At the time, HBO responded by saying: “The creators and producers of The Idol have been working hard to create one of HBO’s most exciting and provocative original programs.

“The initial approach on the show and production of the early episodes, unfortunately, did not meet HBO standards so we chose to make a change.

“Throughout the process, the creative team has been committed to creating a safe, collaborative, and mutually respectful working environment, and last year, the team made creative changes they felt were in the best interest of both the production and the cast and crew. We look forward to sharing The Idol with audiences soon.”

Lily-Rose Depp also issued a statement, insisting Levison is “the best director I have ever worked with”.

Sam Levison and Lily-Rose Depp in Cannes
Sam Levison and Lily-Rose Depp in Cannes
Dominique Charriau via Getty Images

“Never have I felt more supported or respected in a creative space, my input and opinions more valued,” she said.

“Working with Sam is a true collaboration in every way – it matters to him, more than anything, not only what his actors think about the work, but how we feel performing it. He hires people whose work he esteems and has always created an environment in which I felt seen, heard, and appreciated.”

Meanwhile, co-producer and star of The Idol, The Weeknd (as he was then known) questioned whether Rolling Stone was “upset” by a scene from the show questioning the relevancy of the long-running music outlet.

For his part, Levison does not seem fazed by the controversy surrounding his latest project.

Speaking at a Cannes press conference to promote The Idol this week, he claimed: “When my wife read me the article, I looked at her and I just said, ‘I think we’re about to have the biggest show of the summer’.”

He continued: “In terms of, you know, the specifics of what was in [the piece], it just felt completely foreign to me. I know who I am.

“And I think there are two jobs in this business, there’s the work and there’s the managing of the persona. And managing a persona is not interesting to me, because it takes away the time and energy that I would spend on the work.

“So, you know, they’re free to write whatever they want. I think my only slight grievance was that they potentially omitted anything that didn’t fit their narrative. But I think we’ve seen a lot of that lately.”

Lily-Rose Depp agreed: “It’s always a little sad and disheartening to see mean, false things said about someone you really care about, and that you know is not like that. It wasn’t reflective at all of my experience shooting the show.”

The first episode of The Idol will debut in the UK on Now on 5 June.

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