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Review: First episode of MAX's 'Idol' is stylish but oddly inert

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

Fans of "Succession" may have discovered a new show on HBO in that series' old time slot on Sunday. It's from the creator of "Euphoria." It's called "The Idol," and it has already made headlines from a major character played by pop star The Weeknd to a splashy debut at the Cannes Film Festival. NPR TV critic Eric Deggans wrote a review of the show for NPR.org and joins us to do what critics do and tell us all about it. Hey Eric.

ERIC DEGGANS, BYLINE: (Laughter) Yes, I'm feeling very critical today.

KELLY: All right. So do what you do. Tell me what this series is all about.

DEGGANS: Sure. So this series stars Lily-Rose Depp - and yep, she's Johnny Depp's 24-year-old daughter - as a young pop star trying to get her career back on track after she had a nervous breakdown, but she's struggling for inspiration until she meets this nightclub owner/self-help guru who's this, like, creepy Lothario with a rattail braid - who's played by The Weekend - named Tedros. And he worms his way into her life. And here's a scene - we've got a scene from Sunday's episode where they're talking at Tedros' club about the power of pop music. Let's check it out.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "THE IDOL")

THE WEEKND: (As Tedros) Pop music is like the ultimate Trojan horse. You get people to dance. You get people to sing along to say whatever you want.

LILY ROSE DEPP: (As Jocelyn) I like you.

THE WEEKND: (As Tedros) You got the best job in the world. You should be having way more fun.

DEPP: (As Jocelyn) I'm trying.

DEGGANS: Yeah, and so that Trojan horse bit is the kind of line that sounds profound until you think about it a little bit, and then you realize it's really not.

KELLY: OK (laughter). I'm getting the feeling you don't like this show, Eric, which - I mean, the team who made it - as I said, this was the people who made "Euphoria." That's a big deal, no?

DEGGANS: Exactly. "The Idol" was co-created by Sam Levinson, who's the creator of Emmy-winning "Euphoria," and earlier this year, though, Rolling Stone published this expose about the show saying that a female director had left the project and that the sex and the nudity had been ramped up and turning it into a male-centered fantasy. And there were a lot of scenes in Sunday's episode that seemed to fit that bill, including one where Depp's character chokes herself while pleasuring herself. And a lot of it seemed deliberately, almost cartoonishly provocative, kind of aimed at generating controversy but without a lot of substance to the style.

KELLY: We mentioned this high-profile role for The Weeknd, who I did not actually realize was an actor. How do he and Depp do? They're playing the star-crossed couple.

DEGGANS: Well, so far, The Weeknd seems to have the same challenge that a lot of video-friendly pop stars have when they try to act, which is - they look great, but they don't quite know how to believably inhabit a character who walks and talks. Depp has a compelling scene, though, where a photographer asks her to channel all these different emotions, and she does it in a way that fully communicates how exploited she's feeling. So I think she does a good job. I think the show's biggest problem is that it's not really telling us anything we don't already know. Yes, pop stars can be exhausted and feel exploited, which makes them vulnerable to smooth-talking charlatans. I'm just hoping as the story progresses, they find a way to tell us something that's a little more insightful - a little more fresh.

KELLY: NPR TV critic Eric Deggans telling us about "The Idol." Thank you, Eric.

DEGGANS: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Eric Deggans is NPR's first full-time TV critic.