Spoilers ahead for The Idol series premiere. Even before HBO premiered The Idol on June 4, the new drama series had already generated controversy. The series follows fictional pop star Jocelyn (Lily-Rose Depp), who’s prepping a career comeback after a public mental health crisis. Amid offscreen creative differences, rewrites, and reshoots, a March Rolling Stone report cited thirteen sources who claimed The Idol’s production had gone “wildly, disgustingly off the rails,” chronicling an alleged decline from what started as HBO’s “next Euphoria” into “twisted torture porn.” Sam Levinson’s fellow co-creator and star Abel “The Weeknd” Tesfaye refuted the report, and now viewers have finally seen the first episode for themselves.
Indeed, there were plenty of splashy moments. From a leaked photo of Jocelyn with ejaculate on her face to scenes involving erotic asphyxiation, the series premiere gave Twitter plenty to discuss. Hours before The Idol debuted, a New York Times article dropped where The Weeknd urged fans to watch the entire show before passing judgment. “When I first started making music, it was the exact same thing. It was provocative, and I knew it was going to be tough for people. And a lot of people didn’t like it,” explained the four-time Grammy winner who plays Tedros. “Not to compare it, but I feel that this is kind of like that again. This is not going to be for everybody, and that’s fine. We’re not politicians.”
Depp, for her part, added, “We always knew that we were going to make something that was going to be provocative and perhaps not for everyone. That was a draw for all of us. I don’t think any of us were interested in making anything that was going to be, you know, fun for the whole family.”
After The Idol premiered, many Twitter detractors quickly decided that the new series had little hope of filling the void left by the previous Sunday finales of Succession, The Last of Us, The White Lotus, and Barry.
The criticisms encompassed everything from the plot — which one user joked mirrored an actual spoof video from Rachel Sennott (aka Jocelyn’s assistant and friend Leia) — to the dialogue, particularly relating to mental illness and sexual assault. One scene at the end of the episode showed Tedros nearly suffocating Jocelyn in an attempt to elevate her vocal authenticity.
The Weeknd’s slimy character had people talking too, especially an overly dramatic late scene in which Tedros arrives at the gate of Jocelyn’s home. Either way, he seemed to pull off giving viewers major creep vibes.
Another viral moment fans couldn’t get enough of is the amount of smoking Jocelyn did throughout The Idol’s first episode. One viewer joked, “You would think The Idol was a cigarette commercial the way Jocelyn couldn’t do anything without smoking.”
That being said, Twitter did give The Idol props for hitting some high notes, too, particularly introducing BLACKPINK singer Jennie Ruby Jane in her acting debut as Jocelyn’s superior backup dancer Dyanne.
Euphoria fans were also hyped to get a quick cameo from Alexa Demie, aka Maddy Perez, in a nightclub scene, leading some to wonder if crossovers could be possible if both of Levinson’s shows exist in the same universe.
Even with so much going on, perhaps the thing that surprised viewers — including Roxane Gay — most was how “boring” the first episode still seemed to be.
Regardless, the Twitter trending topic seemed to suggest that maybe some viewers who initially planned to boycott the series tuned in anyway. Some didn’t think it was as bad as they expected. Others openly admitted that — despite the problematic elements — they’ll still be on board when Episode 2 drops next week.