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The Idol Racks Up Shocking Reviews Despite Cannes Standing Ovation

The word is out on "The Idol," the new HBO series from Abel "The Weeknd" Tesfaye and "Euphoria" creator Sam Levinson, and it's less than exceptional. Ahead of its 2023 premiere at the Cannes Film Festival, reports had flooded the internet indicating intense on-set problems, which The Weeknd personally debunked as ridiculous, burdening "The Idol" with controversy. Now, the series has screened its first two episodes, received a reported five-minute standing ovation from those in attendance, and seemingly been well-received. But as critics made the way to their computers, that buzz seems to be fading fast.

After gathering their thoughts on the glitzy, provocative drama starring Lily Rose-Depp as a pop star who may or may not be something akin to Britney Spears, reviewers build expectations of crazed antics and a culty drama which ultimately misses the mark. On Twitter, critics didn't hold back with their initial thoughts; Robert Daniels of The Playlist News praised the performance by Depp (as many have, with Deadline calling her "riveting") but said, "unless "The Idol" changes drastically in the next few episodes, she will be nothing more than the window dressing of a concept in service of a misguided, gross, unaware, and untenable vanity project." 

"Until we know more," Deadline's Damon Wise writes, "it's hard to make value judgments about 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." Many of those who have witnessed "The Idol" are praising its lead actress, even if they're repelled by graphic depictions of soulless stardom that feel tasteless and lack any real substance.

Critics are less than impressed with the graphic portrayals

The influx of negative reviews already has "The Idol" saddled with a dismal rating on Rotten Tomatoes; 12 days before its June 4th premiere on HBO, it sits at 14 percent. 

Despite the rapturous applause that concluded the screening — notoriously untrustworthy as everything from "The Paperboy" (12 minutes) to "The Neon Demon" (17 minutes) earned similar initial reports — viewers seem to feel that the show's "Euphoria"-esque commitment to provocative displays of explicit nudity, sexual situations, drug use, and other behavior is an albatross that holds down "The Idol." 

But such themes are a Levinson trademark, and Robbie Collin of The Telegraph found pleasure in such excess. "Had a whale of a time," he writes. "[It's] a merciless, dead-on send-up of the sort of preening, misogynistic drivel that might be made by a child of outrageous privilege who thinks he's Lars von Trier."

Variety had a similar message. "'Euphoria' audiences won't be too surprised by the shameful way Sam Levinson treats Lily-Rose Depp's character," critic Peter Debruge writes. "As both she and the show appear trapped under The Weeknd's thumb." 

Even if the actress herself feels quite different, praising Levinson following the series' behind-the-scenes turmoil, it's almost as if she is so likable in the series that viewers are fated to despise those who are putting her through the motions. In fact, Depp's role as ambitious pop star Jocelyn appears to be the only saving grace of "The Idol," as The Hollywood Reporter said the attempted social commentary falls flat in a portrayal "that's more regressive than transgressive."

Viewers will have to wait until Sunday, June 4th to find out if the star-studded cast of "The Idol" can transcend such depictions of the music industry. As of now, it looks like there might be little to nothing to idolize.