Cult is a creepy show. I admit to having a nightmare after my first viewing of the pilot. That’s what happens when a show purposely sneaks into your head and tries to make you doubt the very foundations of reality.
Because Cult does this successfully, it makes for some great TV viewing.
What is Cult? Unfortunately, this is a tough show to describe. The basic premise focuses on a fictional TV show — also called Cult — airing on The CW. While the ratings are low, the show’s fans are rather devoted to their favorite program. They may even be a little too devoted. You know, if you consider kidnapping, stalking and maybe even murder to be excessive devotion.
When the premiere begins, a disgraced journalist, Jeff (Matt Davis, The Vampire Diaries), gets a call from his ne’r-do-well brother, who thinks that someone involved with Cult is after him. Jeff’s investigations allow him to cross paths with Skye (Jessica Lucas), a production assistant with her own suspicions about the show.
Once Jeff and Skye start down the Cult rabbit hole, they aren’t likely to ever climb out again.
What’s so great about this Cult show-within-a-show? Created by a mysterious, never-seen person named Steven Rae, Cult follows the cat-and-mouse game between Kelly (Alona Tal, Supernatural, Veronica Mars), a police detective, and Billy Grimm (Robert Knepper, Prison Break), the leader of the titular cult. Billy Grimm’s followers on the TV show will do anything — including criminal activities — for him.
And it seems that the fans out in the “real” world feel the same way. The result is disturbing and twisted.
Should you watch?
The simple answer is yes. Cult is an absorbing and utterly original look at obsession and the way that obsession intersects with modern TV-viewing. Knepper’s Billy Grimm is especially excellent — you truly believe this man could convince his followers to do anything. The show is creepy in all of the right ways, and you can expect mind-bending plots even in the first episode.
But it’s not perfect. The premiere episode, “You’re Next,” takes a little too much time setting up the investigation of Jeff and Skye. The result is that the Cult show-within-the-show is more compelling than “reality.” Although events rapidly speed up by the end of the episode (a promising sign for future broadcasts), the slow beginning may be a turnoff.
On the plus side, Cult is a clear and understandable show, no matter how odd its premise. The official boundaries between fiction and reality are easy for us to see, even if some of the characters blur those lines. It helps that the acting — especially from Knepper and Tal, both of whom will play dual roles as both actors and characters on the inside TV show — is compelling.
This isn’t the easiest show. Cult expects its audiences engaged and ready to ponder its mysteries. You can’t treat this as a dumbed-down sitcom. Still, that shouldn’t be too much of a problem for Cult‘s target audience — this is a show that wants obsessive fans to find and love it.
We can only hope that those fans follow through.
Cult premieres on Tuesday, February 19 at 9pm on The CW. Are you planning to watch? Have you watched the pilot online already? Do you think the twisted show works? Leave your comments below!
(Images courtesy of The CW)