Cult Series Premiere Review: A Crazy Show Within a Crazy Show

By MaryAnn Sleasman

Feb 20, 2013

Cult S01E01: “You’re Next”

I have a fondness for The CW that I’m entirely certain is an extension of my fondness for the former The WB, which in turn is fueled by pure nostalgia for the greatness that once was. Sometimes it seems like The CW is in a constant state of reinvention—in many ways still struggling to build itself an audience following its predecessor's collapse. To me, the network has been a small haven for geeky niche stuff that would struggle at one of the stuffier old guards of network TV (at least, in the recent past)—Buffy, Smallville, Supernatural, and most recently The Vampire Diaries and Arrow. Still, we tend to treat The CW as the clumsy, short kid in gym class. “This has the potential to be a good show... for The CW,” or “Don’t expect TOO much, this is The CW,” or “This is crap, but of course it is, it’s on The CW.”

I’m not saying it’s all unfounded. For every great show on The CW, there are a handful of... not so great shows on The CW. There are the clearly cheap imitations of more popular shows on other networks. There are the remakes (though I will admit they aren’t always bad). And then there are the “trying too hards.”

Cult COULD end up in that last group. For some who tuned in to the pilot, it might already be there. If you who missed our "Hey TV.com, Should I Watch Cult?" story, Cult is a TV show about a TV show. In TV Bizarro World, Cult is the newest smash hit from The CW. It has a following so strong that a fandom-courting bar actually has an entire room dedicated to giving Cult fans space to geek out and obsess over details of the latest episode. If accepting that there is a world where The CW airs a massively successful television show is asking to suspend too much disbelief, I’m sorry, because Cult is eager to get you to give up more.

Not only is the in-universe show crazy-popular but (some of) its fans are crazy-crazy. “Secret” websites lure unsuspecting LARPers into the role-play from hell. Fans and crew alike have a habit of disappearing under mysterious circumstances. Apparently the conspiracy has infiltrated the police force. The show’s creator is notoriously reclusive and doesn’t seem to mind the fervor with which the lines between his TV show and reality are blurred by his fans and/or followers. In fact, that might just be the whole point.

And our only hope lies with Jeff Sefton (Matt Davis), ex-reporter and general nitwit, who takes an interest in the series when his brother Nate disappears after making contact with “them” but continues to pop in from time to time with a staticky phone call to plead for help, or to plead for Jeff to stay away, or MAKE UP YOUR MIND ALREADY, DUDE. The best representation of this in the pilot was the CD he left behind for Jeff to find, and then basically told him not to use. Mixed signals, Nate. You okay? Probably not, if whatever-her-point-was Miriam was anyone to judge by.

Not gonna lie, there’s a lot of WTF. Jeff is joined in his quest by a sexy young research assistant for Cult. Skye Yarrow (Jessica Lucas), a.k.a. Jeff's “future love interest in training,” grew alarmed when she discovered those creepy secret websites and then more worried when her boss was largely unconcerned with creepy fans doing creepy things and, you know, murderin’ people. Maybe. Probably.

Skye, it turns out, had personal reasons for initially joining the Cult crew—her father was a journalist who went missing years earlier while investigating Steven Rae, the creator of Cult, for corruption—presumably back before he ever had a TV series. That’s weirdly specific, actually, but okay. Fine. I’ll just pretend she spent her entire life post-daddy’s-disappearance biding her time until Steven Rae just happened to get a show launched so she could work on it and keep an eye on him. Or something. Maybe Steve is like Management on Carnivale and he’ll just be this mysterious puller-of-strings until that gets annoying. IDK.

Once you get the hang of jumping between scenes from the fake/show-within-a-show Cult and scenes from the real/debuted-on-The-CW-in-February-2013 Cult, the plot itself is fairly easy to follow, and this week, the plot of the TV show mirrored the plot of “reality” damn near perfectly with Alona Tal’s Marti Gerritsen’s Kelly Collins (yep, that's real actress > fake actress > fake TV character) looking for her missing sister with 3D glasses while Jeff did the same for Nate. Both of their best leads blew their brains out after uttering the show’s apparent catchphrase, “These things just snap right off.” I appreciated the parallel narratives, and I think they could be fun from time to time, but if they’re a permanent fixture, they could get tedious. Emphasis on COULD get tedious. Not WILL get tedious.

And that’s pretty much where Cult leaves us—with a strong pilot that COULD lead to a trainwreck of a series, but that could just as easily end up being an awesome fixture of Tuesday nights... though I do question the decision to air it following happy feel-good Hart of Dixie. The CW is usually really awesome at pairing up similar shows on the same nights, hoping to catch overlapping audiences; call me crazy, but I don’t see a ton of overlap between the Hart of Dixie and the potential Cult crowd.


Did you watch Cult? Will you be back for episode 2?



NOTES


– Was anyone else disappointed that creepy Billy Grimm isn’t (as far as we know so far) real?

– Which came first? The chicken or the egg? The TV show or the cult?

– I don’t think Nate is as innocent in all of this as we were initially led to believe, do you?

– I know it’s hilarious that The CW presents itself as a hugely successful network within Cult’s universe, but I also think it’s awesome/hilarious that The CW willingly presented itself as the network responsible for (possibly) letting a madman recruit followers through the magic of television. Badass or dumbass?

– “Well hey, these things snap right off.” Snap like guns? Snap like crazy people? Snap crackle pop?

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  • Alastor7800 Feb 24, 2013

    I like how the show feels a bit anachronic, both the real show and the fake one. No thriller tv-show gets its audience hooked up like what we see in the fake show anymore. People going to a café to watch the new episode and talk about it, fans looking for clues together, etc. They would do that on the internet but wouldn't get together just for that. This passion for Cult's mysteries is something we used to see with shows like Twin Peaks (and I believe it may be one of Cult's source of inspiration) or Lost in a different genre, but now thrillers are mostly procedural series and the serialized thriller is rare so I like how the show feels a bit retro and even kitch sometimes.

  • PutU2REM Feb 24, 2013

    I agree with the reviewer in most respects, but she got one fact wrong: in-universe, "Cult" is NOT super-popular. Note the in-universe suit the in-universe network sends to talk to in-universe Steven Rae about creative adjustments to bump the in-universe ratings, so "'Cult' doesn't become a cult show" ... in-universe.

    Goodness gracious, someone hurry up and invent some new lingo or this conversation is going to become impossibly confusing!

  • Epsilon Feb 23, 2013

    – Was anyone else disappointed that creepy Billy Grimm isn't (as far as we know so far) real?
    - No, I like the idea of him being the face of the cult without even knowing it.

    – Which came first? The chicken or the egg? The TV show or the cult?
    - Egg, obviously. I'm going with TV show, just because Nate said everything changed for him in episode 9(?).

    – I don't think Nate is as innocent in all of this as we were initially led to believe, do you?
    - I believe he was but won't be for much longer.

    – I know it's hilarious that The CW presents itself as a hugely successful network within Cult's universe, but I also think it's awesome/hilarious that The CW willingly presented itself as the network responsible for (possibly) letting a madman recruit followers through the magic of television. Badass or dumbass?
    - Badass.

    – "Well hey, these things snap right off." Snap like guns? Snap like crazy people? Snap crackle pop?
    - I have no idea what that could be about other than hypnosis by subliminal messages.
    Did anyone else catch the frame reading P E M and the dark face over Kelly's head right at the beginning in the documentary part?

    Maybe I watched a different version of the show, but I don't remember Skye mentioning Steven Rae in connection to her father.

    I think I could LOVE this show, or not. I'm not quite sure how I feel about it, other than that I'm worried it will turn out a train wreck, because as far as I'm concerned shows consisting of one big mystery always fail to deliver, especially when it comes to satisfactory solutions.
    And I know it might seem odd to specifically point this out, but I hated when the policewoman covered up her tattoo, it seemed so unnatural.

  • Veronikamdov Feb 22, 2013

    It was soo weird and different that I realised I need to see second episode and I´m already sad it will be cancelled. I miss some mystery freak show so badly..

  • bigape2005 Feb 22, 2013

    Terrible show. It was insulting to anyone who isn't concussed.

    When you go into a book store you have the isles for adults as well as the kids section with books about caterpillars and peaches. Then, in between, you have the isle for the Tweens with poorly written books about wizards and twilights and angst filled puppy love.

    This felt like I was watching one of those. It was embarrassing for the actors.

  • Lefin Feb 21, 2013

    The first episode was . . . intriguing. It definitely had some typical pilot-related issues, so it'll be interesting to see the "real" show comes into shape over the next few episodes.

    That being said, it doesn't seem likely that the show will last, but that says more about today's ruthlessly cutthroat TV business than anything. It's either instant success or bust, pretty much.

    Since discovering him on the cast of Prison Break (an otherwise crappy and forgettable show), I've found Robert Knepper a compelling and charismatic actor, albeit one who doesn't have the best luck finding work on shows that stick around. Here's to hoping to this one lasts, as unlikely as that may be.

  • RobTheMonk Feb 21, 2013

    It was pretty crazy. I'll give it a few more episodes to develop because it has alot of potential.

  • PolarisCarver Feb 21, 2013

    I am torn between the potential of this show and the occasional intense stupidity of its premiere. Clearly it suffers from pilot syndrome really badly, there a lot of cheese between the two attractive but not very bright main leads, the plot feels wobbly and clichés are falling from the sky like locusts, but just when I was starting to roll my eyes the show caught me with some very good creepy moments, with good music, editing and all (the mysterious waitress and the ending kidnapping sequence for example). Also I love myself a good Knepper performance. So waiting to see where it goes.
    Just a note, but I watch Hart of Dixie and I will be watching this show (well depends how it turns out), so the overlapping audience does exist (though we might not be very numerous).

  • ShahhidaMiah Feb 21, 2013

    i liked it but the first show wasnt that exciting hopefully it will get better.
    T-Bag forever

  • Shreela Feb 21, 2013

    Similarities to The Following, but still different enough. It looks like they're going to mess with our heads, purposely confusing us.

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