HBO made history on Tuesday when Warner Bros. Discovery streaming service officially became known only as “Max.” In a tongue-in-cheek twist for the historic TV brand, he received a celebratory big-screen sendoff. At the Cannes Film Festival world premiere of “The Idol,” the new show from “Euphoria” co-creator Sam Levinson, the mere appearance of the static HBO logo drew applause from across the 2,300-seat Lumiere Theater, but the hall got a lot quieter from there.
Based on the two screened episodes (cut together as one 103-minute package with only a title card in between), “The Idol” forces viewers into a constant paradoxical state. The story of mentally unstable pop star Joslyn (Lily Rose-Depp) who is seduced by a nefarious cult leader (Abel “The Weeknd” Tesfaye) has a propulsive energy as it flows through its haunting plot, from lively dance numbers that Rose -Depp’s character experiences to exhaustion through the brooding BDSM relationship that begins with The Weeknd’s character as he infiltrates her world.
The show, originally filmed and directed by Amy Seimetz before her version was scrapped, sometimes dangles his male gaze as a provocative extension of the show’s ostensible villain. Elsewhere, it goes into overdrive with its emphasis on the toxic world of the music industry as a whole oppressing Joslyn from every angle. She thinks “Succession” meets “Entourage,” with a sloppy dose of “Black Swan.” Almost everyone and everything around the main character is bad news, from her foul-mouthed agent (Jane Adams) to her unsentimental manager Chaim (Hank Azaria), who pays someone to lock down the nudity consultant during a photo shoot in a bathroom after he Joslyn decides to show her breasts in the opening scene.
As with ‘Euphoria’, ‘The Idol’ is shooting for the talk and is sure to energize him. It’s brilliant and engaging storytelling, at least in its first episode, even if the second sets up an eerie cliffhanger that’s sure to keep many viewers hooked. Its sensual qualities were crafted with top-notch craftsmanship and a rapid pace that suggests it could be a perfect fit for the Discovery+ library guilty pleasure trashy TV that will now sit next to it on Max.
That may be why Warner Bros. Discovery CEO David Zaslav seemed pleased with the premiere and after-party in Palm Beach, which didn’t start until after 1 a.m. -timed opening speech), Zaslav seemed comfortable wandering around the room as a DJ turned the noise up to deafening levels. The room was neon red, not unlike the dark lighting schemes of the show, and the scene might as well be an extension of his world. A large yellow sign built atop the building greeted guests with “Hello Angels,” the word Tedros of Tesfaye uses to refer to members of his entourage, but the room actually felt more like a particularly lively section of Hell .
A director of an American micro-budget film released last year, who was in Cannes to watch films and is currently on strike as a member of the WGA, noticed Zaslav and smiled. “I think I’m legally obligated to assassinate that guy,” he said, and added that he hoped the DGA would go on strike later. However, a producer on a recent HBO project featured also gave the executive more credence. “Listen to concerns. Whether it makes a difference, I don’t know,” he said. “He loves movies and I’d rather work with someone like that than an executive who doesn’t care.”
Levinson was decked out in a white tuxedo as he worked the room, working his way from an overcrowded VIP area near the DJ booth where The Weeknd courted the surrounding area. As writer of the show, did he violate the WGA strike rules by promoting the project in Cannes? “I’m here as a director,” he said.
Levinson cried even more in his comments to the crowd immediately following the screening, where he thanked everyone from Zaslav to his wife and producing partner, Ashley Levinson, who gave birth to their second child a day before Tesfaye was due to deliver. to restart the project. “I feel like I’ve gained a family,” he said in her remarks about him.
At the party, she supported him. “I meant what I said,” she claimed, screaming over a booming bass track. “I had many reasons why I didn’t want to do it. But I’m sincerely happy about it.” As for IndieWire’s reporting on the show’s behind-the-scenes drama, Levinson didn’t dispute most of it, except for his impression that he ultimately wasn’t creatively involved with the project. “I’m not interested in managing talent,” he said. “But people will say what they want to say.”
He had yet to look into the responses, though he insisted viewers would find the show more entertaining as additional episodes aired. “The thing is, it’s funnier than ‘Euphoria,’” she said. “It gets more fun as it goes on. I think people will discover more and more satire in it.
A source involved with the original version of the show who saw the first two episodes at Cannes said the new version had nothing in common with Seimetz’s original approach. “The original was like a Hollywood underworld like Lynchian or ‘Phantom of the Opera.’ The whole thing was a dream,” they said. “Hopefully it gets better after the first couple of episodes – I don’t see how it could get much worse.”
Those negative vibes may or may not pass as “The Idol” makes its way to more viewers on June 4, but either way, don’t expect it to fade. On a shuttle back to the main festival area, a woman with a thick French accent was still weighing her reaction. “For me, show business is porn,” she said. “Beautiful porn, but porn.” She paused before adding, “I’ll probably watch the other episodes. “