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Review: Cult 1.1 "You're Next"

Proving that shows about a show within a show usually collapse under their own weight, The CW's new drama Cult follows an unnecessarily convoluted mystery involving disappearances related to a fictional television show about a cult, entitled Cult, that has inspired a cult-like following. The part of this whole scenario that's hardest to swallow is that this popular program-within-a-program supposedly airs on The CW, a self-congratulatory pat on the back from the network to itself. Creating a fictional TV network would have been less ostentatious and more believable.

Too often we see television networks going back to tired old procedurals, primetime soaps, and reality shows, so Matt Davis and Jessica Lucasgive credit to The CW and creator Rockne O'Bannon (Farscape) for devising a unique concept and actually putting it on the air. The unfortunate issue is that the story, characters, and acting in the fictional Cult are generally superior to that of the "real" Cult, which follows a disgraced newspaper journalist searching for his brother, a hardcore fan of the show who goes missing in the series premiere. Aiding him in his quest is a production assistant on the show who has been researching some of the more extreme corners of Cult's fandom, and together they explore the underground subculture that has sprouted up as a result of the series.

The main characters, played by Matt Davis (The Vampire Diaries) and Jessica Lucas (Melrose Place), are stiff and wooden, spouting inane dialogue that aims to clobber the viewer over the head with the idea that the fictional Cult is the equivalent of the cult phenomenon Lost, only with a much darker twist. Why anyone wouldRobert Knepper and Alona Taldevelop an obsession with this particular show is never adequately explained, though. Robert Knepper (Prison Break) does a solid job in his dual role as the cult leader on the show, Billy Grimm, and the actor who portrays him, Roger Reeves, but there's nothing that suggests how this show would inspire such devotion.

Maybe that's the point. As someone who only watched a couple of episodes of Lost in the middle of its run on ABC, the series was impenetrable to outsiders by that point and I didn't understand the appeal. We have all felt that way about certain shows that others rave about; for me, it's Sons of Anarchy and Breaking Bad that I can't crack. Perhaps Cult is forcing us to examine how and why some shows garner such rabid fans, many of whom spend hours online discussing or reading about their favorite series. Fringe and The Walking Dead have done that for me in recent years, but there are other people who just can't get into them.

We're getting off topic, though, and that's easy to do because Cult is an average offering at best. The central concept of a TV show like FOX's The Following influencing its audience to murderously recreate scenes from the show is an idea that sounds intriguing on paper, but fails in execution. A good example is the seedy underground club where hardcore fans apparently gather to "watch their favorite shows" and chat furiously on the internet. In written form, you could probably conjure up something far less cliche and cheesy in your imagination than the set design put forth here that just reinforces how silly it all is.

Speaking of silly, how about that shocking reveal of the Cult tattoo on the wrist of the police detective near the end of the episode? The dramatic fashion in which she pulled her sleeve back down was fantastic unintentional comedy. Doesn't she ever wear short sleeves? If the Cult cult members are so concerned about people discovering their identities, why do they place the tattoo on such a visible part of the body? I can just picture her walking around holding her sleeve down when it's windy out, or wearing a sweat-stained long-sleeved shirt on a hot California summer day.

There's also the looming plotline involving the enigmatic creator of the show, Steven Rae, whom nobody — presumably including the network executives who bought the show — has ever met. Is it standard practice in the TV industry for a network to produce a show without ever meeting the creator in person? If that's the case, why would anybody move to Los Angeles?

In short, I won't be joining The CW's Cult. The performances and the writing are subpar across the board, and the schizophrenic nature of flipping between the show and the show-within-a-show muddles the narrative. The cold open left me wanting to follow the characters in the fictional Cult rather than the cardboard CW models that populate the main cast, and I ended up not caring about any of them or the ridiculous plot devices involving DVRs and social media. An A for effort and kudos for trying something new, but this Cult won't be inspiring the passionate devotion it has written for itself. Rather than serving as a commentary on the nature of fandom and cryptic series like Lost, it's just another show with a messy and confusing mythology.

FINAL GRADE: C


Details
Network:
- CW
Person:
- Robert Knepper
- Matthew Davis
- Rockne S. O'Bannon
- Jessica Lucas
- Alona Tal
Show:
- Cult

Written by: Chrononaut
Feb 20th, 2013, 5:29 am

Images courtesy of The CW

Anonymous

Message Posted On Mar 3rd, 2013, 5:24 pm
Finally after 6 years we get Cult...and so far, so good. I like that it seems to genuinely be darker in tone than other shows on the CW, even some of their previous shows that were supposed to be a bit darker and edgier. Also, the two leads seem to have a great natural chemistry based off the pilot. I loved Matt Davis in The Vampire Diaries, and think he was a great choice for Jeff. One other thing I loved too was how they were able to use some good haunting music to set the mood in the pilot. A great example was when they used Junip's "White Rain" in the cafe when we see Nate for the first time - it totally has a cool haunting vibe without being overboard spooky or goth music.
Anonymous

Message Posted On Feb 26th, 2013, 3:39 pm
I found the first episode completely ridiculous. I am not sure if it's supposed to by funny or scary. If you like crap like The Vampire Diaries and your IQ is below 50 you'll probably love this show. wtf were they thinking when they made the dvd/laptop scene at the end of the episode? Most of the people nowadays (especially teenagers which is the main audience of this piece of junk) aren't computer illiterate.
Anonymous

Message Posted On Feb 21st, 2013, 4:56 pm
No one is going to say how funny role players being underground was. I mean come on.
wmarat

Level 2 (21%)
Since: 13/Feb/13
Message Posted On Feb 21st, 2013, 1:39 am

Agree with a grade C. I'll watch next couple of episodes and if they are same as episode 1, I'm done with this show.

TheCthulhu

Level 1 (47%)
Since: 13/Nov/10
Message Posted On Feb 20th, 2013, 3:43 pm

I strongly disagree as well, and have trouble understanding how people have such a hard time comprehending and following the show-within-a-show concept.  It isn't convoluted at all imo.

That said, I think people are misunderstanding the concept.  I may be wrong, but I think the plot is most comparable to the film "In the Mouth of Madness".  People aren't necessarily "copying" the show, but, without giving too much away, the popularity is causing the show itself to alter the reality in which the main characters live.  If you haven't seen the film, I suggest watching it (it's about a novel, not a TV show, but the same idea) and then rewatching the pilot.

The one thing I DO agree on is the scene with the tattoo.  It was a bit ridiculous, but considering audeinces these days must be spoon fed plot points to follow a storyline, it doesn't suprise me they chose to do the reveal this way.  Overall a small quibble with a great premiere.  If that scene is the worst thing about a show there isn't much to complain about.

Finally, I have to add that I constantly hear people complaining about the lack of priginality in media.  They complain about the cliches on shows like The Following, they complain about remakes of films, and they ask where all the original ideas have gone.  Yet a show like this comes along that has the most original concept I've seen in quite awhile and people bash it, say it is convoluted, and complain about the aspects of the show that MAKE it so original.  And then they wonder why no one makes anything original anymore.  Hmmmm......perhaps because no one appreciates it when they do and the rare original concepts that come along get no support.

Anyhow, just wanted to stop by and say how much I enjoyed it.  It won't be around for long with the ratings it received, but I'll happily watch it for as long as it is.

Gadfly
(Site Moderator)

Level 89 (83%)
Points: 133618.1
Mood: frustrated
Since: 13/Dec/05
Message Posted On Feb 20th, 2013, 7:58 am

Yep, I liked it as well. Also not sure how you can tell Knepper did a solid job as the actor, since he only appeared as such for about five seconds so the protagonist could stare at him in shock. It's also Steven Rae, since that's a joke on O'Bannon's pen name.

Anonymous

Message Posted On Feb 20th, 2013, 7:34 am
Whoa. I strongly disagree. The Cult is a great show. Alot of suspense. Easy to follow. Love the soundtrack and characters. Can't wait for the next episode!
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