If you’ve been watching Arrow, Supernatural, Vampire Diaries or other CW fare, you have probably been inundated during the commercial breaks with cryptic snippets and the hashtag #DoNotWatch flashing across your screen for the new show Cult. I have to admit, the promo pieces piqued my curiosity and the one with the girl stuck in the car with the oncoming train really freaked me out. Of course, we are all about the creepy here at G4 so there was no doubt I would be watching. The ante was upped further when I discovered Supernatural alum Alona Tal has a starring role. Fans supposedly never really took to her Jo Harvelle, but she was one of my favorite characters and the perfect foil to Dean’s lady-killer charms.
Having watched the first Cult episode, “You’re Next,” on the CW’s site here before its Tuesday, February 19 television premier, I have to say I am pretty excited about the show. I’ve been enjoying the not so perfect The Following, but I haven’t been left with feelings of “I need to talk about what’s going on with someone now!” Don’t get me wrong, I think most of the first episode of Cult was a little disappointing and the acting is not up to the star power of Bacon/Purefoy. There is a sense of artificiality in the show within the show scenes, hopefully to just distinguish it, but it can be jarring flipping frequently between the two. The cliché of “the police don’t believe me, I’ll look into this myself,” the expected mole in a position of authority, and an intentionally absent and mysterious creator aren’t screaming “This is something original”. But a story has to start somewhere and the last five minutes are a game changer. The last scenes gave me some chills.
A not too spoilery synopsis Jeff (played by Matthew Davis), a disgraced investigative reporter who was fired from the Washington Post for making up facts which in turn caused a lot of supposedly crooked police to be fired, has a ne’er-do-well brother Nate whose latest obsession is this show Cult. Jeff meets with a seemingly crazy Nate who rambles on about his paranoia, obsession and fear of the show Cult and slips Jeff a pair of 3D glasses before Jeff walks off disgusted. That evening Nate disappears leaving a bloody chair behind in his apartment. Of course Jeff has no fans in the police department now and let’s just say that reporting his brother missing doesn’t garner him any sympathy. Jeff slyly picks up Nate’s Cult journal from his desk and starts doing his reporter thing.
The show within the show is about detective Kelly Collins who is trying to find her sister and nephew after the leader of the cult she escaped from, Billy Grimm (played perfectly by Heroes’ Robert Knepper), has them taken by his followers. Billy even states he doesn’t know who all his followers are and that they are everywhere. Billy wishes Kelly luck finding her sister and hands her a pair of 3D glasses. The show within the show is created by Steven Rea and as we are told at several points during the real show, Steven is reclusive and no one gets to him.
We are also introduced to Skye (played by Jessica Lucas), a researcher for the show Cult at the CW. Skye has been perusing the web and found that there are fun fan sites and then there are “hard to get into sites” with scared people. Skye is told by her bosses, “We’re just a television show; they’re just fans.” But upon Jeff showing up on set trying to get to the show’s creator, Skye overhears Jeff talking about Nate’s disappearance and Skye goes off with Jeff to investigate some fan sites and they stumble upon some Cult LARPING, more tragedy, and more interactions between Jeff and the police officers that already mistrust him. Cue the mysterious computer disc. Lesson #2 from Cult (Lesson #1: don’t get all mussed black out my windows obsessed with a mysterious TV show) if you find a mysterious computer disc, don’t put it in your personal computer – go to Best Buy or an Apple Store.
3D glasses, a suspicious red car, and who knows how many followers just grabbing selected people off the street and things start adding up, but to what? After the aforementioned last few minutes, I really want to know. And I want to know what the heck just “snaps right off.”
There were a few saving graces as I was watching. There is some industry humor and cracks about Bruckheimer shows, and as The Simpsons are prone to making fun of their own Fox network, Cult is following in its footsteps with some subtle fun poked at CW since the television show Cult within the show is also on the fictionalized CW network.
My only real criticism isn’t really of the show itself, but rather mourning what could have been a crazy insane guerilla type advertising campaign a larger network could have given it to build suspense. The mysterious red car driving throughout different major cities, 3D glasses and secret messages to look out for, and video pop up ads with the show’s cult leader Billy saying “You’re next.” They could have gone further. They could have gone all Trent Reznor Year Zero on everyone and hid digital clues in different venues. But maybe it’s a fair trade. A show as different as this probably has the best non-cable chance on CW over the other networks. And maybe we’ll see them use those tactics in the show as their fan base disappears and they need to get new fans.
Did you watch it already? Do you plan on it? Come here after and let me know what you thought!