Editor’s note: the following contains spoilers about the premiere of “The Idol.”
The expression “From the sublime to the ridiculous” has seldom felt more fitting than in watching “The Idol,” HBO’s new wannabe-sexy drama, a week after the “Succession” and “Barry” finales. Although the series premiere isn’t as bad, or offensive, as reports of production issues and early reviews out of the Cannes Film Festival might have led people to believe, it’s guilty of another sin – namely, being just plain boring.
Created by Sam Levinson (“Euphoria,” who directed the opening episode) with star Abel “The Weeknd” Tesfaye and Reza Fahim, the show joins a long list of movies and TV shows pulling back the curtain on the slimy side of the music or entertainment industry. Despite endeavoring to feel provocative, “The Idol” mostly traffics in limp clichés and very, very stilted performances.
Lily-Rose Depp stars as Jocelyn, a Britney-like pop star (the comparison is overtly made) seeking to relaunch her career after an unspecified breakdown. She’s introduced as her assorted handlers fuss over and about her, reacting to a public-relations crisis created when a very private photo of her leaks online.
All of that amounts to an extended teaser, though, before Jocelyn agrees to a night out at a club, where she meets its semi-mysterious owner, Tedros (Tesfaye), and seems to be instantly drawn to him. (“Seems” being the operative word, since Depp basically is allowed to have one expression through most of the episode, so it’s frankly hard to tell.)
Although her assistant (Rachel Sennott) is convinced Tedros is bad news, Jocelyn invites him over and lets him listen to her yet-to-be-released new single. That creates an opening for him to begin his Svengali act, telling her that she needs to open up sexually in order to become a convincing singer.
Where “The Idol” goes from there remains to be seen, but if the first chapter is any indication, it’s hard to see the show getting anywhere particularly interesting. Unlike “Euphoria,” which traffics in pushing the sexual envelope around teenage characters (played, admittedly, by older actors), the glitzy backdrop actually works against the drama, such as it is, feeling edgy or distinctive.
HBO took the unusual step of not making “The Idol” available in advance to critics who didn’t catch its Cannes screening, a sign that the network (like CNN, a unit of Warner Bros. Discovery) was hoping to avoid another drubbing before viewers had a chance to see it.
As is always the case with these things, it’s possible to run but not hide, though that decision does make one of Tedros’ lines of homespun wisdom to Jocelyn, “You’ve gotta stop caring what people think,” especially ironic.
During another exchange, Tedros muses to the pop star, “You’ve got the best job in the world. You should be having way more fun.”
Whatever else “The Idol” is or wants to be, it’s definitely not much fun.
“The Idol” premiered June 4 on HBO.