It is arguable that HBO’s most recent Sunday night offering, The Idol, was doomed before it even made it to air, with the show shrouded in controversy since last Spring.
Despite being the brainchild of The Weeknd, real name Abel Tesfaye, and Euphoria’s Sam Levinson, Amy Seimetz was the original director of the show.
However, she suddenly exited the project in April 2022, with Rolling Stone reporting that “roughly 80 percent of the six-episode series” was finished when she left.
It was later claimed that The Weeknd thought that Amy’s vision for the series was “leaning too much into a ‘female perspective,’” and Sam scrapped almost all of the completed work on the project when he took over as director.
Not only did this drastically delay The Idol’s release — and seemingly see the show get reduced to five episodes from six — the changes that Sam and The Weeknd made to the show left many crew members feeling uncomfortable.
In March, Rolling Stone published a troubling exposé that saw the project get described as “sexual torture porn” and detailed a tumultuous creative process.
And when The Idol premiered in Cannes last month, it was widely panned by critics — not least because of how salacious and problematic the script was.
But despite all of the scandal, the majority of viewers have largely just been left underwhelmed by the show, which has been described as “cringe” and “boring.”
In fact, Episode 2 went viral for what was branded “the Worst Sex Scene in History,” as British GQ went so far as to ask: “Has anyone involved in this show ever had sex?”
So it’s perhaps unsurprising that review aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes has the show rated at just one star out of five.
But despite the low rating, the audience score is notably almost 20% higher than the critics score — which Rolling Stone decided to investigate, with damning results.
In a report that was published at the weekend, the publication revealed that there were 500 5-star audience reviews for The Idol, but only nine came from users who had previously rated other shows on the website. The article summarizes: “98% of the rave reviews came from users who were posting their first review on Rotten Tomatoes.”
The report also reveals that the “the majority of positive reviews came from an influx of first-time reviewers in the first four days of its June 4 premiere,” with Rolling Stone going on to clarify that they “did not find similar activity when compared to The Last of Us, another popular HBO show.”
Needless to say, this news has led to The Idol being mercilessly dragged online as people speculated over where those 500 positive reviews have come from.
Discussing the report on a Reddit forum, one user joked: “Weeknd and his 490 alt accounts.” Another echoed: “98% of that 98% was The Weeknd’s mom with burner accounts.”
Someone else added: “Everything about this show is so embarrassing.” Another referenced Lily-Rose Depp, who stars in the show, as they wrote: “The damage control is real lmaooooooo. Take the L and walk away weekend and Johnny’s daughter.”
“they need to give it up. take the L and just forget about it,” one more agreed.
Others came up with possible theories as to who was behind the influx of positive reviews, with some arguing that they could have come from K-pop fans supporting Blackpink’s Jennie Kim, who has a supporting role in the show.
There was also a theory that The Weeknd’s fans were creating accounts to support his venture, while some went so far as to claim that Lily-Rose’s dad, Johnny Depp, was involved.
“As much as I want to believe The Weeknd is making RT accounts one by one to boost his vanity project, I would bet money it’s Jennie stans,” one person wrote. “As a Kpop fan, she’s the only reason I bothered watching, and I know there’s people out there who’ve hit their Twitter limit and are looking for an outlet for all that pent up stan energy.”
“It’s probably just The Weeknd’s stans trying to bring up the audience score to make it look like the negative critical reviews were the result of some Hollywood conspiracy against Abel,” someone else countered.
“Okay but you know I have to ask…” another said of Lily-Rose. “Did her dad buy more bot services to give his daughter a confidence boost?”
Meanwhile, over on Twitter, someone else pointed out that the suspicious positive reviews still weren’t enough to balance out all of the negative ones — which is why it still has an overall negative rating.
“Not The Weeknd’s fans making accounts to rate his terrible show with 5 stars,” they wrote. “Still couldn’t cover up the other thousands of other low reviews.”
Amid the scrutiny that The Idol has faced, The Weeknd has remained defiant and repeatedly hit back at the backlash.
In an interview with GQ, he insisted that viewers are supposed to “feel embarrassed for the characters,” and called his own character “pathetic” and “such a loser.”
He also distanced himself from the role, saying: “The only way I could play this role was if it’s something completely different from who I am. And I can distance myself from that character. I wanted to make sure he looked nothing like me, acted nothing like me, just a totally different person.”
The Weeknd lashes out at people’s negative comments on Twitter too. Earlier this month, someone tweeted “who has the thread or article on why the idol is bad pls i need it,” and The Weeknd retweeted them and sarcastically added: “‘someone hurry please tell me why I hate something everyone is telling me to hate … hurry before I come up with my own opinion.’”
And when another user said that they were going to block The Weeknd because they couldn’t stand the way he constantly talks about the “mid ass show,” he replied: “hurry up than you taking too long.”
The Idol’s season finale aired on Sunday, and HBO are yet to confirm whether or not a second season will be ordered.