Get us in your inbox

The Idol
Photograph: HBO/Eddy ChenLily-Rose Depp and The Weeknd in ‘The Idol’

‘The Idol’ first-look review: Lily-Rose Depp and The Weeknd cook up a trashy pop star purgatory

HBO’s buzzy show mixes hedonism and devilry in the Hollywood Hills

Phil de Semlyen
Written by
Phil de Semlyen

Her dad was The Libertine and now it’s Lily-Rose Depp’s turn to take a journey of sexual and creative liberation in this dark-edged music biz series co-created by and starring Abel ‘The Weeknd’ Tesfaye. It’s a crash course in bad life choices for Jocelyn, Depp’s pop star who is on the comeback trail after the death of her mum, in a show that’s alternately fun-trashy and a bit of a snooze. The first two episodes debuted in Cannes, though its wavelength is a lot more Friday-night-with-cans-on-the-sofa.

Not that its wavelength is all that precise. Two episodes in and the tone is yet to be nailed firmly down. Is it a Paul Verhoeven homage without the satirical edge? A boozy, emotional ‘Star is (Re)Born’ comeback story? A journey into the underworld with The Weeknd as a kind of Tesco value brand Mephisto? 

So far, HBO’s buzzy show is all of the above. Episode one bursts out of the traps with a scene set at Jocelyn’s outsized Hollywood mansion that involves a photoshoot, some rogue nipples, an annoying intimacy coordinator (he’s locked in the loo – and judging by the explicit business that follows in the series, so was the real one) and an explicit selfie of the singer that’s been leaked online. All of it unfolds in the presence of a Vanity Fair profile writer (Transparent’s Hari Nef). Good one, PR team.

The set-up is pure Entourage and, delivered by the likes of Jane Adams, Dan Levy, Hank Azaria and Da'Vine Joy Randolph as Jocelyn’s anxious coterie of label people, managers and PR advisors, the patter is satisfying. Everyone seems to be doing slightly different things but they’re all fun, with Rachel Sennott basically a nervy New York version of Entourage’s Lloyd as Jocelyn’s friend, assistant and all-round ego whisperer, Leia.

The Idol
Photograph: HBO/Eddy Chen

Then the second episode integrates The Weeknd as shady, cultish nightclub owner Tedros Tedros (cool name, btw) and the fizz leaves in the glass. Charismatic as he is, the musician-turned-actor delivers an underwhelming brand of sinister allure. Sexually speaking, Tedros is an open-all-hours kinda guy as he encourages Jocelyn to explore her deepest desires. Auto-asphyxiation is firmly – and irresponsibly – on the menu here. ‘He’s so rapey,’ points out Leia. If this is a love story, Tedros definitely needs to dial back on the Charles Manson vibes.

A well-publicised spat during production between The Weeknd and the show’s original director Amy Seimetz saw her replaced by Sam Levinson (on paper, a neat fit for the Euphoria creator). That abrasive back story adds a meta layer to Tedros’s efforts to help Jocelyn regain creative control of her new single, but the push-pull of creative differences crackles through the opening episodes.

Will I be tuning in for the remaining three episodes? Probably. Depp is the real deal – a Ming vase teetering on the edge of a table – and it’s sleazy fun when it’s not taking itself too seriously. Here’s hoping it ditches its more transgressive extremes and goes full Showgirls in episode three.

The first two episodes of The Idol premiered at the 2023 Cannes Film Festival. It streams on HBO in the US Jun 4, and Sky Atlantic in the UK Jun 5.

Latest news