Cult: Tuesdays 9pm Eastern on the CW
It only makes sense that in a television season in which we have an over-the-top new show about a cult (The Following) and an over-the-top new show about a conspiracy (Zero Hour) that the CW would attempt to create a show that is about both a cult and a conspiracy and ignore the part about being over-the-top.
Cult follows disgraced journalist Jeff Dean Sefton (Matthew Davis) and over-inquisitive production assistant Skye Yarrow (Jessica Lucas) as they try to chase down Jeff’s brother Nate whom have been kidnapped by a group of overzealous fans of the CW (don’t worry they won’t let you forget the conceit that a CW show is popular no matter how far fetched that may seem) show Cult whom are committing copycat crimes for those that they’ve seen on the show.
The show within a show (for the purposes of avoiding confusion from here on out will be referred to as Cult’) is a supernatural thriller that involves police detective Kelly Collins (Alona Tal) chasing down the Manson-esque cult figure Billy Grimm (Prison Break’s Robert Knepper), whose followers are responsible for the kidnapping of Kelly’s sister Meadow and her family.
Cult’s main conceit comes from the way these two worlds interact, especially when viewed through the lens of it’s reclusive creator Stephen Rae. When a lecherous network executive (whose only two notes as a character are trying to force the show to have mass appeal and staring at Skye’s butt) tries to contact Mr. Rae, it has seemingly dire consequences. Meanwhile, much of the show’s symbolism crosses between the shows two universes whether its the older Orange sedan used for kidnappings, the two color 3-D glasses that Nate hands Jeff, the cult symbols that populate characters in both universes, or the rampant cosplay that exists in the Cult’ community.
While all of this intricate groundwork has room to spark potential interest, the show fails because it fails to resonate emotionally on any level. It’s hard to buy Cult’ inspiring any killers because it gives off the vibe of a show that’s not too far removed from former WB mainstays Buffy the Vampire Slayer or Charmed. Similarly the show’s twists seem more confusing than shocking (including two key twists at the end that I will not divulge in order to prevent spoiling the show should you wish to watch it). Finally, there is nothing less emotionally inspiring for Cult‘s mystery solving mantra of “watch TV, save the world.”
Similarly, in those rare moments where the show does try to give off some emotional resonance, it’s plagued by wooden acting, particularly on the part of Matthew Davis, whose sole expression throughout the entire 44 minutes is one of puzzlement devoid of any real empathy (even when he sees what he thinks is a pool of his brother’s blood). Knepper does a solid job as big bad Grimm, but Grimm is not written to be as compelling as Joe Carroll nor seems as threatening as White Vincent, the two villains of the two other shows that tackle similar subject matter.
The Final Verdict: It’s never a good sign when a fake show pulls someone in better than the real show surrounding it. Cult’ is a wacky goofy supernatural mystery that looks like the sort of thing that would fit perfectly on SyFy. Unfortunately, the show surrounding it, Cult, is devoid of real tension, a coherent story line or even a reason to care (with one protagonist who is pretty unlikable and another who isn’t well developed). As a result, we never really have to worry about fans going crazy and performing copycat crimes with this show, because I can’t really see people putting the mental investment required to figure out a show that doesn’t look to payoff the emotional investment required to watch it. Save yourself the hour and watch The Following or a rerun of The X-Files if you’re looking for a supernatural thrill, because there’s none to be found here.