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

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?

Comments (102)
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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.
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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!
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– 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.
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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..
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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.
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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.
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It was pretty crazy. I'll give it a few more episodes to develop because it has alot of potential.
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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).
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i liked it but the first show wasnt that exciting hopefully it will get better.
T-Bag forever
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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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That shit cray
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i liked it a lot, i was entretained, btw i also watch hart of dixie
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i watched and i will be back..i thought it was clever wierd and kind of spooky...i liked the actors cast. the premise is differant and i am crossing my fingers...it reminded me a little bit like twin peaks,but not as woerd..maybe because it has the creep factor..and you are not quite sure what is going on or how it will proceed...i liked it...and i think i am hard to please...so we will see...
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I'm bingeing on a older show so I will keep this short and sweet.
The show kept my interest and I enjoyed it. I liked what seemed like self-depricating humor on the part of the CW (intentional or not). I didn't like the tattoo on the FBI agent's arm. I loved the review (good take on the pros and cons). I will keep watching for now and see how it goes....
this is short for me:-)
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i got about 20 minutes into the episode and stopped watching because it was completely uninteresting.
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One episode and already under the million viewers. The show looks promising but I'm pretty sure it will be canceled in a few weeks.
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I couldnt finish this I stopped midway . I was like wtf ,this is not a serious show , they didnt just make leaps they made bounds of assumptions just to fit in with their storylines. Yeah they had great looking cast and all BUT was Boring crap....IMHO
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I'll give it the 4 episode rule. Can't say that it really impressed me though. I am a fan of The CW, as a lot of their shows are unrealistic and not very serious, but I'm not sure how well they'll do with a show that's a bit more serious and "cunning". We shall see.
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That was... interesting. Or was it? Bah! I honestly have no idea how I feel about that premiere. It was... fun. Wait, was it?! Ugh!

Okay, well... the positives: I wasn't bored at any point... I don't think. Two, I can watch Jessica Lucas and Alona Tal all day, every day, despite both characters so far being 'Meh'. Three... uh... oh! Robert Knepper NEVER FAILS playing a creep. Four? Actually, I think those three are it.

The negatives: What a mess! I don't think I'm really stupid or anything -- just slightly so -- but if you're going to do the 'show about a show', you're going to have to do a better job of finding ways to separate the two. Then again, maybe the messiness just adds to the confusion which adds to the enjoyment of the mystery? I can imagine some people going: "What... uhhh... I'm confused and I have no idea what's going on. Which is why I LOVE IT!" Actually, I think that might be it for negatives. Just the one: almost everything about the show is messy. The characters, the A plot, the A plot within the A plot, etc.
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Must admit I'm curious. It gets brownie points for Knepper alone. need an actor to portray a charismatic cult leader? - get Knepper! I like Alaric - I mean Matt Davis as well. although technically it did tick all the right boxes for me I found myself strangely disengaged whilst watching the first ep.Somehow it managed to be simultaneously innovative/predictable at the same time. I think I might leave it for a few episodes and follow the reviews before I decide to commit to it properly.
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Watched it, but I wished there was more to it. Still, I give it credit for getting me to wanna tune in next week. Like many others, I couldn't help but compare it to The Following. What works in favor of Cult is that it seems to know what it is & doesn't take itself too seriously. Cult knows it's candy, while the Following is candy that seems to suffer from the delusion that it's steak.
Btw, just sayin' but something in my gut tells me that Jeff will ultimately end up being the Howard Hughesy cult leading pupetmaster...assuming the show gets that far
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Nah. It'd be waaaay better if Alona Tal turned out to the mastermind behind everything.
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I kinda agree w/ ya there. I mean, my gut still says it's Jeff but the part that says Alona is a whole 'nother part of my body ::sheepishly innocent shrug::
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Loved it! Its weird and different and Robert Knepper is awesome.
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Have to agree with several other commenters and say it's nice to see Matt Davis again, but his performance is so Alaric-esque that it leaves me wondering when Damon is gonna show up...on a more serious note, I noted a few similarities with Twin Peaks (anyone here old enough to remember that?) and oh, am I mistaken or was that an episode of Knight Rider airing on one of the TV:s in the bar?
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At least these supposed cult members are smarter than the ones from The Following. I am not sure if the show is my thing. It seems silly. It seems overblown and it seems like they are going to need key figures in the show to either remain stupid or be in on it. And the only people that see it is the reporter and the dishy PA. Not that I am mad at it, the dishy PA is, well dishy. I don't mind an us against the world story. I find it better than a whole group of people like say some supposedly smart FBI agents get convenient bouts of stupidity in order to try to make rudimentary plots work. So the characters can go from a place of ignorance and then gain knowledge and suspect everyone, rather than be smart and then conveniently stupid and trust people that are obviously against you.

However saying all of that, it still feels off and I am not sure if it is going to keep me as a viewer.
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I've watched and I liked it. As some other reviewers have mentioned it feels a lot like the Following, which I also liked. I agree that Cult could get confusing. But I have a solution for all of you who are complaining about that: I tape the episodes and then watch two or three in a row. You have to be a little patient, but then you can enjoy a great show where you don't have to dive in every week. Works wonders.
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I removed the series from my DVR after watching the pilot. It scored a .3 (18-49) last night, so it's probably a goner, anyway.
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before watching it , the show got me hooked because of Robert Knepper
and i can see a great potential for epic goodness , or maybe a big disaster .. depending on the conclusion of the show ,, and its yet to come

first episodes i noticed a gap between whats real and what fake or related for that show ..
and they moved really quickly from what Jeff's brother was doing and how he ended up with the cult ..
they needed to air at least two episode premiers in one night to get people really interested for what to come .. but at least they kinda ended with that ominous video with belly saying " You're NEXT .. you're next .. next .. next " which freaked me out .. and made me wonder ..next for what ??
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I can only take one disturbing show about a cult at a time. so i chose the following because i like bacon.
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Mmmmm... bacon. Who doesn't like bacon? Except vegetarians... and vegans... and Vegeta?
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I like Bacon too. Ever since Footloose. But I'll probably be watching The Following and this one.
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the pilot was interesting but thinking too much about the show within a show gives me a headache. Will they track down the actor billy green? is the actor of billy green doing this in real life? why cant they see steven rae? Does he even exist?

Also this story doesnt seem like they can go far beyond a season or two. This seems more like a mini series then an actual season long series
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The CW makes a show about a show named CULT that is gonna be tricky to say the least, i mean real name of the actor- name of the character in the show- name of the character in the show within a show, i mean if it takes that long to figure out a name imagine how hard it would be to track both the real show and the show within a show, take your pick xzibit or inception. I am getting a headache just imagining what comes next
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Right?! This could get messy real fast.
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Well hey, these things just snap right off.
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I watched it. I will very likely be back for episode 2. However there is a very decent chance that I won't be back for too much more if it stops maintaining my interest. I'm intrigued by the whole show within a show being an actual cult within a cult for now, but I wouldn't mind seeing a little more of the Billy Grimm character in real life. If we only ever see the cast of "Cult" on screen on screen, I'll start to get annoyed.
-I'm hoping there's much more to the character. Either that, or he's COMPLETELY ignorant of everything and he joins the resistance, because that could be cool with him representing the cult onscreen but fighting against it off-screen.
-The cult (the real cult, not the TV show) of course. I think the show was merely the next step in the cult's life in its attempt for domination.
-Maybe. I'm hoping that he was innocent at the very beginning when we met him, but he is now (by the end of the episode) a card carrying member of the cult who proceeds to become a silent villain to his brother. Just because I want it to be that way.
-Badass. I mean, it's a little risky, but I think it works. Look at "30 Rock" and their portrayal of NBC. "Studio 60" had to make up a network (NBS instead of NBC). At the worst, the CW doesn't have the most sterling reputation currently, and I think this will work in their favour if this show is successful at all.
-I think there's a message hidden inside that phrase somewhere. But I don't know what it could be nor do I want to waste the time looking for it myself.
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"accepting that there is a world where The CW airs a massively successful television show is asking to suspend too much disbelief" BINGO! You've said it all. It's great self-aggrandizing propaganda.

Like many people I was initially comparing Cult to The Following, but those two shows are not on the same league. Cult is full of cheap thrills, the mystery for the sake of the mystery, with people saying cryptic things just because, well, it's a CW TV show. Kind of kike "You don't know what you're getting yourself into," "don't look for me," "I shouldn't have gotten myself into this," and so on, warnings that are totally devoid of content and which OF COURSE will make the hero only more curious to get more and more involved.

And the Cult show inside the Cult show must be very boring, since it has so many passages of Knepper just talking to the camera with a sinister look.

At least with The Following you have some modicum of sense and the acting of Kevin Bacon and James Purefoy.
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"Cult is full of cheap thrills, the mystery for the sake of the mystery, with people saying cryptic things just because, well, it's a CW TV show."
And with this statement I fully believe MaryAnn was right when she said the CW is treated differently because it is "The CW."

The writer for The Following is also co-writer (handles the horror/mystery writing) of The Vampire Diaries, a CW show with cheap thrills, mystery for the sake of mystery, and people saying cryptic things. The network doesn't determine the quality of a show.
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I'm only halfway through the pilot (nasty headache knocked me out before I could finish it) but so far I'm really into it. I hadn't planned on watching any of it last night, but there I was half an hour in, thinking "Wait, wasn't I about to turn the TV off?" There was something oddly captivating about the beginning. Maybe because it just kind of throws you in and basically says "Hey, so here's this world. We're not telling you exactly what's happening and you're going to watch. Got it? Good." I'm looking forward to the rest of it. And whether Billy Grimm is real or not (I'm leaning towards real, personally) he's creepy. Actor's awesome.
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first thing come from my mind is xzibit meme
"Yo Dawg, I herd you like show, so I put a show in your show"
hope T-Bag get more significant scene outside character in cult within show
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*Thumbs up* for the Xzibit meme mention.
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I watched it last night and I thought that this show is great. I was hooked from the very first minute and I will most definitely watch next weeks and the week after that and so on. CW is killing it with all the new shows and my number 1 all-time favorite "The Vampire Diaries." GO CW!!
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I've seen the pilot... and I'm not sure if this show is for me. I think it would be more interesting if the show they were watching in "Cult" was the show we're watching - I mean I would prefer to watch adventures of Alona Tal's character and her partner then Matt Davies and Jessica Lucas (though IMO both of them did well).

I'll give it one - two more episodes, but if something spectacular doesn't happen soon I'll probably pass "Cult".
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I think it's pretty dumb, but it's at least a bonkers-interesting dumb, which is more than you can say for The Following or Zero Hour.
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THIS. It's by no means my new favorite or anything, but I was entertained.
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My take on Well hey, these things snap right off. I think of cheap plastic toy type things where you find out the larger whole is actually a bunch of smaller things made to "snap" off. Like when old action figures came with their weapons in a plastic frame and you had to pop them out or something. And that ultimately, each little piece was rather small / cheap / disposable.

Perhaps something to do with their brain washing. It culminates in them seeing themselves as cheap disposable things ready to be snapped off the main bit. And thus they kill themselves.
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I like the way you think.
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Really great pilot. Probably one of the most interesting show on The CW (Supernatural, Nikita, Arrow).
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It’s a strong cast and I am interested to see where they'll go with this... assuming they don't draw it out too much I will definitely be tuning in to future episodes. I am also looking forward to finding out more about Alona Tal's character... here's hoping CW doesn't make us wait too long to meet her outside the fake TV show!
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I was disappointed by the lack of Alona Tal in the pilot too. I'm sure she'll get more action later though. Crossing my fingers!
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im REALLY hoping for this show to be create, bc so far LOVE it!!!!
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I'll watch the second episode, but if it doesn't pick up, I see it ultimately being cancelled!
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That was a hec of a lot more fun than "The Following". At least they're trying something original here that doesn't seem half as boring or weak as an Edgar Allen Poe Cult. Robert Knepper looks like he's having some fun with this role. They seemed to pick a good night to try to launch so hopefully this show can find an audience. One possible problem, picking random good looking CW type to play the reporter/brother. He barely registered and he was in almost every scene. Hopefully he gets better/more interesting. Jessica Lucas was one of the few things that worked about Melrose Place and her character, with what little we learned about Skye she could prove to be the most interesting piece of the puzzle. I'm in.
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I will keep watching but I don't want to invest my time and interest if they Secret Circle it.
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Very interesting Pilot. Interesting set of characters. More interesting set of real actors behind . Has potential and has thrilling moments every minute. Good choice of retro-esque ambiance and BGMs. And on soundtracks can someone please post a list of songs used in Pilot.
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Really interesting pilot, looking forward to seeing where this heads. Needs more Alona Tal though.. and finally, a use for those 3-D glasses that have been gathering dust on my desk.
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ok I just started the pilot & won't read this review before I've finished but STILL GG producers are behind it: I'm SCARED :p
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just finished: so far so good, but don't have a clue where this is going which's good for me I'm here for the(hopefully) long run :)
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- Believe me Billy is real.... very real and Creepy . I bet on that
- I Believe that the Tv series formed the Cult , see Bellow
- In a way Nate is innocent but involuntary he isn't
- I Think its cool because in a way its a self-satire
-"Well hey, these things snap right off." These things are Humans . Humans snap right off , meaning that they brake easily .
I Believe that some extra dimensional entities , are using The Fictional series as mentium to possess humans and invade our reality. They slowly begin to corrupt their minds with subliminal messages , alter their thoughts till the breaking point. Nate is currently under that proccess thats why and the conficting messages. These Creatures are impessed of how easy is to snap a Human. Nice Review Btw
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