‘Cult,’ following the leader nowhere
CW drama is a lot like Fox's 'The Following,' and not as good
February 15, 2013
Since “Lost” broke out in 2004, many TV dramas have involved conspiracies so immense that the screenwriters can’t adequately sum up the premise in the first episode. The best the writers can hope to do is end the premiere with an oh-my-God revelation that leaves us desperate to learn more.
The CW’s new drama “Cult” fails to provide us with that jaw-dropping finish. Adding to viewers’ reluctance to tune in again will be the show’s many similarities in theme and action to Fox’s new conspiracy drama “The Following.” Although it has promising moments, the first episode leaves us with little hope the show will draw either a cult or much of a following.
In the premiere, airing next Tuesday, Feb. 19, at 9 p.m., Jeff Sefton (Matt Davis), an ambitious reporter working at an unambitious Los Angeles newspaper, learns that his younger brother, Nate (James Pizzinato), has what seems like paranoid delusions centering on a drama on the CW called “Cult.” Later, when Jeff receives a panicky call from Nate, he goes to Nate’s apartment and finds a pool of blood in Nate’s desk chair.
Jeff teams up with Skye Yarrow (Jessica Lucas), a researcher on the show, who is concerned that some of the fans of the show have become morbidly obsessed with it. This mirrors the fictional show itself, which is about a cult leader named Billy Grimm (Robert Knepper), whose own followers are starting to abduct and murder innocent people.
In the show within the show, Grimm is being pursued by Kelly Collins (Alona Tal), a police detective who used to be a member of his group. Her sister and nephew have gone missing. Grimm tells her, perhaps truthfully, that he doesn’t know how many followers he has or what they’re up to.
As Jeff and Skye begin their search for answers, it becomes clear that the fans of the fictional “Cult” are taking cues from the show, but it’s unclear whether the cues are being placed deliberately in the scripts. The show’s creator refuses to do interviews or even appear in public.
The “meta” aspects of this premise are too close to those in “The Following,” in which a real serial killer is using his followers to commit murders that follow the conventions of crime fiction. There’s no reason to think either show cribbed from the other, but “Cult” has the misfortune to come second.
As in “The Following,” virtually anyone whom the good guys meet could be a member of the cult, even people who seem completely trustworthy. Since “The Following” has already pulled this trick a couple times, its effectiveness is lessened on “Cult.”
In the scenes from the show within a show, the creators seem to be having fun mocking the clichés of TV crime dramas. For example, Kelly is disobeying direct orders in her pursuit of Grimm; her partner warns her not to “make this personal;” and when they investigate a crime scene, they’re unable to call for backup. But the main drama is played straight.
As the premiere episode unspools, details pile up without forming even the beginning of a recognizable pattern. The writers don’t have to give away everything in the first hour, but they should give us the impression that they know where they’re going.
Like most stars of shows on the real-life CW, Matt Davis and Jessica Lucas are too conventionally attractive to be taken seriously in a dark drama. Robert Knepper has shown in such series as “Prison Break” that he can be a compelling psycho villain, but it’s possible that he’s a red herring in “Cult.”
“Lost,” of course, became notorious for dropping clues that seemed profound but led nowhere. “Cult,” by contrast, seems likely to lead somewhere that’s not very profound.
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