HBO's 'The Idol': Everything We Know

'The Idol' comes from the "dark and twisted minds" of 'Euphoria' creator Sam Levinson and pop star The Weeknd.

lily rose depp abel tesfaye the idol hbo
(Image credit: Eddy Chen/HBO)

One of the most buzzy and controversial shows of the past few years came to HBO this June (for better or worse). The Idol, HBO's latest scripted series from Euphoria creator Sam Levinson and pop star The Weeknd (real name Abel Tesfaye) saw its world debut at Cannes in the spring, after several months of filming delays followed by reports of massive creative shake-ups and concerns from crew members about its shifting subject matter.

The Idol brings together a cast of rising stars, well-known actors, and musicians (including a BLACKPINK member) to tell the story of a rising pop idol (played by Lily-Rose Depp) who enters a complicated relationship with a self-help guru and leader of a modern-day cult (Tesfaye). 

Does 'The Idol' have a trailer?

HBO released the full trailer for the five-episode series last month, along with its logline: "After a nervous breakdown derailed Jocelyn's (Lily-Rose Depp) last tour, she's determined to claim her rightful status as the greatest and sexiest pop star in America. Her passions are reignited by Tedros (The Weeknd), a nightclub impresario with a sordid past. Will her romantic awakening take her to glorious new heights or the deepest and darkest depths of her soul?"

A second trailer, released in late May, shows hints of discord as Tedros woos Jocelyn and slowly influences her recording process and takes over her house, with another character saying, "He's brainwashed her." It also shares an important piece of advice: "Never trust a dude with a rattail."

When will 'The Idol' be released?

The season premiere of The Idol arrived on June 4, 2023, with the five-episode series airing weekly on HBO and its newly-renamed streaming platform Max. The premiere comes nearly two years after Tesfaye first announced the series in June 2021, and a year after the release timeline was pushed in April 2022 due to "major changes" (more on that below). Throughout that time, Tesfaye has dropped sneak peeks of the show, in the from of teasers shown at his concerts and first-look photos on Instagram.

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Did 'The Idol' end early?

The season finale of The Idol arrived a bit sooner than expected, premiering on July 2, 2023. While fans have wondered whether the show was perhaps canceled or cut short after the premiere aired, the shorter length has always been part of the plan. Though the show was initially presented as a six-episode season earlier in its development (see below), it switched to a five-episode run ahead of the official premiere. As for why, a source told TV Line, "The season ended up being five episodes when it was all said and done after Sam [Levinson] took over and made significant changes. The story only ended up requiring 5."

Who is in the cast of 'The Idol'?

The series is led by Tesfaye, in his first major acting role, and Depp, who previously appeared in films including the Netflix period piece The King and the sci-fi drama Voyagers. Several musicians will also star in undisclosed roles, including Troye Sivan, Moses Sumney, Mike Dean, Ramsey, and BLACKPINK member Jennie Kim, appearing under the name Jennie Ruby Jane.

Other actors in the stacked cast include Dan Levy (Schitt's Creek), Da’Vine Joy Randolph (High Fidelity), Eli Roth (Inglorious Basterds), Hari Nef (Barbie), Jane Adams (Hacks), Rachel Sennott (Bodies Bodies Bodies), Suzanna Son (Red Rocket), and Hank Azaria (Ray Donovan).

What happened behind the scenes of 'The Idol'?

The Idol has been a long-awaited show, mostly because fans were left with minimal news and no release date for several months after its announcement. In April 2022, HBO told Deadline that it was "adjusting" the series' cast and crew mid-production, with a spokesperson saying that the network was "evolving" its creative vision for the show.

"The Idol’s creative team continues to build, refine, and evolve their vision for the show and they have aligned on a new creative direction. The production will be adjusting its cast and crew accordingly to best serve this new approach to the series. We look forward to sharing more information soon."

Soon after, news broke that director Amy Seimetz (The Girlfriend Experience), who was supposed to helm every episode of the series, had left the project. Cast member Susanna Son also reportedly exited, though she has since rejoined the cast. Deadline reported at the time that Tesfaye was allegedly unhappy with the show’s creative direction, with sources saying he felt it was "leaning too much into a 'female perspective.'" Following Seimetz's exit, Levinson came on to direct the series, reportedly scrapping several episodes completed under his predecessor's direction to reshoot the entire project.

Trigger warning: References to sexual assault. On March 1, 2023, Rolling Stone reported that production on The Idol had gone "wildly, disgustingly off the rails," citing 13 sources—including crew members and individuals with knowledge of the show. In addition to multiple reported delays, budget issues, and multiple last-minute script changes, Levinson also allegedly took the show in a more sexually "disturbing" direction, including more explicit content and nudity. One production member told the outlet, "It was like any rape fantasy that any toxic man would have in the show—and then the woman comes back for more because it makes her music better." Another said, "It was a show about a woman who was finding herself sexually, turned into a show about a man who gets to abuse this woman and she loves it."

HBO responded to the claims in a statement to Variety, which read, "The initial approach on the show and production of the early episodes, unfortunately, did not meet HBO standards so we chose to make a change. Throughout the process, the creative team has been committed to creating a safe, collaborative, and mutually respectful working environment, and last year, the team made creative changes they felt were in the best interest of both the production and the cast and crew." In own his initial response to the report, Tesfaye publicly responded on social media via a minute-long clip of a scene from the forthcoming show, in which Tesfaye’s character calls Rolling Stone "a little irrelevant." The star captioned the clip, "Rolling Stone did we upset you?"

Depp also gave a statement to the outlet, defending her collaboration with Levinson. "Sam is, for so many reasons, the best director I have ever worked with. Never have I felt more supported or respected in a creative space, my input and opinions more valued. Working with Sam is a true collaboration in every way—it matters to him, more than anything, not only what his actors think about the work, but how we feel performing it. He hires people whose work he esteems and has always created an environment in which I felt seen, heard, and appreciated."

Tesfaye later explained his video response to the Rolling Stone report in his recent cover story for Vanity Fair. "I thought the article was ridiculous," he said. "I wanted to give a ridiculous response to it." He told VF that he took issue with the framing of the report, which he described as, "These are rapists trying to make a rape fantasy." He also claimed that Seimetz only departed the show due to scheduling conflicts, though she herself did not comment. "I know it’s easy for people to be like, ‘Oh, he wanted to be the star,’” he added, but he insisted that the show still focused on Depp’s perspective as the lead and that it had always been written it that way.

Levinson also responded to the allegations at a May 23 press conference the morning after the show’s Cannes Film Festival premiere. "We know we’re making a show that’s provocative,” he said, per Deadline. "When my wife read me the article, I looked at her and I said, 'I think we’re about to have the biggest show of the summer' … They’re free to write whatever they want. I think my only slight grievance was that they intentionally omitted anything that didn’t fit their narrative. But I think we’ve seen a lot of that lately."

Contributing Culture Editor

Quinci is a Contributing Culture Editor who writes pieces and helps to strategize editorial content across TV, movies, music, theater, and pop culture. She contributes interviews with talent, as well as SEO content, features, and trend stories. She fell in love with storytelling at a young age, and eventually discovered her love for cultural criticism and amplifying awareness for underrepresented storytellers across the arts. She previously served as a weekend editor for Harper’s Bazaar, where she covered breaking news and live events for the brand’s website, and helped run the brand’s social media platforms, including Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter. Her freelance writing has also appeared in outlets including HuffPost, The A.V. Club, Elle, Vulture, Salon, Teen Vogue, and others. Quinci earned her degree in English and Psychology from The University of New Mexico. She was a 2021 Eugene O’Neill Critics Institute fellow, and she is a member of the Television Critics Association. She is currently based in her hometown of Los Angeles. When she isn't writing or checking Twitter way too often, you can find her studying Korean while watching the latest K-drama, recommending her favorite shows and films to family and friends, or giving a concert performance while sitting in L.A. traffic.