We're halfway through the year but I'll hedge a bet and say that The Idol is likely to be one of the most controversial series of the year. If you've been anywhere on the internet in the past couple of weeks, you'll know that the TV show is airing to an audience that's already priming themselves for the absolute worst.


But the first episode of the HBO series isn't as disgusting as you'd think from the general consensus – it's just terribly boring.

With all of the creativity, direction and genuinely thought-provoking writing that could have occurred in a series about Hollywood, fame and the price of being a female popstar, The Idol is just rather forgettable.

The series opens with Jocelyn (Lily-Rose Depp) in the middle of a photoshoot and from that scene alone, you can begin to garner how this series will play out. She's told by the photographer to display different emotions ranging from "innocence" to "doe-eyed", then "mischievous" to "pure sex". It's the kind of soul-opening scene that could really highlight Depp's acting prowess here but the expressions are unconvincing and the uncomfortable sexual breathing is just a taste of what's to come.

The Idol - Lily-Rose Depp as Jocelyn
Lily-Rose Depp as Jocelyn in The Idol. HBO/Sky

Jocelyn is a popstar in the middle of a rebrand and the photoshoot – complete with red robe, pills and hospital wristband – is just one part of the run-up to her new single after a previous nervous breakdown. But her expansive team's efforts of controlling her every career move don't go quite according to plan when an explicit image of Jocelyn is posted online by a former lover.

Along the way, we see a well-meaning intimacy co-ordinator be locked in a bathroom, a Vanity Fair columnist (Hari Nef) arrive amidst the drama to interview Jocelyn, and the popstar herself intentionally not being told about the photo leak by her team. Sounds like a wild ride, right? But actually, The Idol lacks pace and exploration, meaning it just feels like it's trudging along.

The scenes of Jocelyn's managers (Da’Vine Joy Randolph and Hank Azaria), publicist (Dan Levy) and assistant Leia (Rachel Sennott) are welcomingly funny and give an insight into the cogs of the Hollywood machine through a satirical lens. They also provide some levity to a dull hour of television but the irony that this show is supposed to encapsulate falls short because, well, it just feels lazy.

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The dialogue feels clunky and underdelivered throughout, despite there being lines dotted around that are undoubtedly supposed to make you take stock and think of the wider implications of being a famous woman in Hollywood.

Euphoria's Sam Levinson and Abel Tesfaye are attempting to show the dark, insidious side of the music industry within this series but the writing and direction just fail to deliver. Could original director Amy Seimetz have focused on the more intriguing details of the show's story and brought less of the pornographic edge? We'll never know, but The Idol certainly feels like a missed opportunity.

We could've had a series where Jocelyn's life, her desires and goals are being explored alongside the awful corners of the industry. We could've had a series discussing her sense of exploitation and journey to independence because of that, something megastars like Britney Spears (who is continually referenced throughout the first episode) have lived through. After all, it is a conversation about consent and autonomy that is topical now more than ever.

Instead, it's a series shot entirely in the male gaze where Jocelyn is merely an object of sex and fantasy, demonstrated by the closing scenes which will leave you feeling incredibly creeped out. Arguably, Jocelyn is the sexualised image of stardom that a series like this could explore very well, but instead she feels vastly under-explored along with the rest of the promising ensemble talent.

The Idol
Abel Tesfaye AKA The Weeknd in The Idol. HBO/Sky

Somehow, you finish watching The Idol at more of a loss than when you tuned in, with further questions about everything in it. Do we know anything about the characters? Do we know anything about Jocelyn and her apparently traumatic backstory with her mother? Do we know anything about her career before this? Absolutely not to all of the above.

Tesfaye (aka The Weeknd) flits through the opening episode as sleazy Tedros, engaging Jocelyn in sexual acts, and clearly this only marks the beginning of what is going to be a very uncomfortable watch of a relationship. But the ending scene is one that perfectly underlines when a director like Levinson goes too far. For a series that's supposed to be hyperrealistic and set against the real-life backdrop of Hollywood, it really does just feel like a personal fantasy playing out on screen instead.

I don't for one second doubt that The Idol embodies some of the toxic attitudes of the glitzy American neighbourhood it's based upon, but this series just manages to continuously miss the mark.

It's a social commentary without any at all and, at the very least, a pilot episode is supposed to give the viewer enough grounding in the series to continue along with it. While some will likely strap in for the ride of the series as the weeks go by, you won't exactly be setting your reminders for this one.

The Idol is available to watch weekly on Mondays on Sky Atlantic and streaming service NOW in the UK sign up for Sky TV here.

Looking for something else to watch? Check out more of our Drama coverage or visit our TV Guide and Streaming Guide to find out what's on.

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