Sam Levinson’s HBO Series ‘The Idol’ Singes Cannes With Luxury Sleaze

There was plenty of earned laughter and warm applause for Abel “The Weeknd” Tesfaye, Lily-Rose Depp and Sam Levinson

Abel “The Weeknd” Tesfaye, Lily-Rose Depp and Sam Levinson The Idol
Abel “The Weeknd” Tesfaye, Lily-Rose Depp and Sam Levinson attend the "The Idol" red carpet during the Cannes film festival on May 22, 2023 (Kristy Sparow/Getty Images)

And on the seventh day, the rain finally stopped, the sky turned blue again, and the toniest guests of the Cannes Film Festival climbed the Palais steps for the world premiere of “The Idol.” Spirits were up and expectations were high – this HBO project was only the fourth series admitted to cinema’s high temple, and the first not created by favorite son or daughter (the three prior cases did come from David Lynch, Jane Campion and Nicolas Winding Refn, after all). 

Only in such a resonant room, the derisive laughs and muted applause that would greet the first two episodes became all the more pronounced.

That shouldn’t ding “The Idol” much — there was plenty of earned laughter and warm applause too. Still, pitched somewhere between “Entourage” and “50 Shades of Grey,” the Sam Levinson-Abel Tesfaye collab isn’t aiming for prestige; if a long sequence set before a TV playing “Basic Instinct” didn’t clue you in, “The Idol” delivers luxury sleaze.

And boy, does it hit that mark! Lily-Rose Depp takes center stage as Jocelyn, a raunchier composite of Britney-Xtina-Miley who wants to be Rihanna. By the time the pilot picks up our girl has been around the bend and then some, and now aims at a comeback after tumultuous year of breakups, breakdowns and personal tragedies – but no hit single. A generic bop that goes by “World Class Sinner” might be her ticket back to the top. Her management and entourage – played by the likes of Dan Levy, Hank Azaria, and scene-stealers Da’Vine Joy Randolph and Rachel Sennott — all hope so, but the starlet has her doubts.

For that matter, so does the nightlife impresario Tedros (his full name: Tedros Tedros) played by The Artist Formerly Known As The Weeknd. Jocelyn and Tedros meet eyes in his club, and in rapid, music-video logic, are soon inseparable after a dance, a grind, and an abortive hookup in red-lit stairwell. Soon they move back to her mansion – in real life Tesfaye’s actual abode – and get to work making the single singe. For the most part that involves a light BDSM warm-up before inlaying heavy breathing on the track.

It is rather telling that in the show’s logic, ‘more authentic’ is synonymous with ‘more sex.’ Because in the end, “The Idol” doesn’t have much more to offer than the pleasures of the flesh, offered in abundance. Though really, just about everything in the show is extra, from the coked-up tone to the earnest stabs profundity that drew the screening’s giggles. (“We all answer to someone. Who do you answer to?” a friend asks Jocelyn. “God,” she says, wistfully staring at the sky.)

Structured mostly as a hangout with a bunch of L.A. alphas, “The Idol” has very little chill. Label execs and LiveNation honchos buzz around Jocelyn’s sprawling estate for most of episode one, while rubberneckers played by Hari Nef and Troye Siwan witness an expensive music video shoot turn to shit in the follow-up. Through it all, Depp offers quite a fearless turn, while Tefaye never quite pops. His character is meant to be a mystery, mind you. 

With tears in his eyes, series director Sam Levinson offered a moving toast to those in the room, thanking the Cannes festival for making his dream come true. Just what pushed the snobby fest to yield for this particular series was less clear, though a glittery red carpet and thumping after-party —where attendees slung back vodka and caviar while Tesfaye and Justice held the stage until the wee morning hours — offered a few compelling answers.

Don’t worry if you couldn’t make it. Soon enough “The Idol” will bring the party to you, finding its eventual and eternal home a pre-club pregame, or a happy treat for dads still holding down the couch once the rest of the family has gone to bed. 

Check out TheWrap’s Cannes magazine here and all of our Cannes 2023 coverage here.