The Idol reviews: Critics slam “crude, gross” Sam Levinson show

Lily-Rose Depp and The Weeknd in The Idol on HBOHBO

After years of rewrites and reshoots, the controversial HBO drama The Idol is almost upon us. While official full series reviews are yet to be released, the first reactions are in, with plenty of criticism about the gratuitous nature of its nudity and sex scenes. 

Euphoria creator Sam Levinson is back with a risque new show, which he co-created alongside Reza Fahim, and Abel Tesfaye, aka The Weeknd. Lily-Rose Depp is leading the cast, starring as a Britney Spears-esque pop singer named Jocelyn whose last tour was derailed after she had a nervous breakdown. 

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As per the synopsis: “She’s determined to claim her rightful status as the greatest and sexiest pop star in America. Her passions are reignited by Tedros (The Weeknd), a nightclub impresario with a sordid past. Will her romantic awakening take her to glorious new heights or the deepest and darkest depths of her soul?”

The Idol has been mired in controversy after allegations emerged claiming Levinson had derailed the show and turned it into “torture porn”. Amid the alleged drama, the first two episodes of the show made their Cannes premiere on May 22 – so, here are the reactions and early reviews so far, as well as when to expect an all-important Rotten Tomatoes score.

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The Idol reactions

The first reactions to The Idol have been rolling in since the first two episodes premiered at Cannes Film Festival, and opinions on the drama series are mixed, ranging from “Pornhub-homepage” to “Levinson fans won’t be disappointed”. 

The New York Times columnist Kyle Buchanan wrote: “The Idol, or 50 SHADES OF TESFAYE: A Pornhub-homepage odyssey starring Lily Rose Depp’s areolas and The Weeknd’s greasy rat tail. Love that this will help launch the HBO Max rebrand, should slot nicely next to House Hunters!”

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Elsewhere, IndieWire’s Eric Kohn tweeted: “Yeah, THE IDOL has the EUPHORIA vibes you might expect but it’s really more like somebody put BLACK SWAN, SUCCESSION, and SECRETARY in a blender and let it rip. Prepare yourself for quite the discourse… #cannes.” He later added: “By the way, this doesn’t put it on the level of any of those!”

Variety’s Tatiana Siegel shared her thoughts on the series, writing: “The Idol premiere just wrapped. Sam Levinson fans won’t be disappointed.” But she also offered a little insight to the audience reaction, adding: “The Idol convo in the theater. ‘I hated it.’ ‘Garbage.’ ‘I’m disgusted..’ ‘She’s way better than I thought she’d be.’”

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Similarly, the outlet’s Elizabeth Wagmeister teased: “There is going to be A LOT said about #TheIdol…we’ll leave it at that for now.” And Variety’s Ramin Setoodeh added: “Lots of strong reactions to #TheIdol out of #Cannes2023 – ranging from ‘I hated it’ to ‘the TV version of clickbait’ to ‘I don’t need to see any more of Lily-Rose Depp naked.’”

The Idol reviews

While we’re yet to receive reviews for the full series, there have been numerous early reviews from The Idol’s Cannes premiere, many of which suggest the show isn’t as deep as it thinks it is – and, of course, there’s much chat about the nudity and graphic sex scenes. 

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The Hollywood Reporter described the show as “more regressive than transgressive,” writing: “Jocelyn asserts her agency in the first ten minutes, only to relinquish it at every conceivable moment. Rarely does a scene go by without the camera showing flashes of her breasts or ass. You start to wonder if this is building to anything, and by episode two it seems likely that it’s probably not.”

Adding to the conversation, Deadline said: “Until we know more, it’s hard to make value judgments about morality and ethics, or, more substantively, the arguments about the male gaze and female body rights… However it turns out, Depp is quite rivetingly game with, to put it mildly, a highly sexualized performance that also is grounded and often vulnerable, discomfortingly addressing the fine lines between porn and art, power and exploitation that have faced young women in the music industry for years.”

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The LA Times said The Idol “isn’t as shocking as it thinks,” adding: “Her naked, and near-naked, breasts are on constant display – Jocelyn favors tops that are either sheer or consist of tiny underboob-revealing triangles – and 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.”

Variety said it “plays like a sordid male fantasy” and that “the script (overhauled by Levinson, Reza Fahim and The Weeknd after an earlier, Amy Seimetz-helmed version was scrapped) 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.”

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Elsewhere, Vanity Fair wrote: “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.”

Is there a The Idol Rotten Tomatoes score?

While its Rotten Tomatoes score has yet to be finalized, it’s currently sitting at 17%.

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We should note, this is only based on six reviews, so it’ll likely fluctuate a bit between now and the show’s release on HBO.

The Idol premieres on June 4, 2023, on both HBO and Max, with new episodes dropping weekly thereafter. You can read more about the show here, and check out our other TV and Movie hubs below: 

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