February 19, 2013



CULT:  Tuesday 9PM on CW – Change the Channel

CW has had little good news this season apart from the arrival of Arrow, and it’s not helping itself by deciding to launch the new thriller CULT just as FOX has introduced its own somewhat similar The Following.  Comparisons are inevitable between the two shows about anonymous groups of killers, and won’t be to CW’s advantage, as Cult plays as a sillier, meta-ier and certainly more incoherent version of FOX’s series.

Cult isn’t just the title of the series, it’s the title of the series-within-the-series, which airs, like the series, on CW.  (Following me so far?)  From the glimpses we get in the pilot, which was written by veteran Rockne S. O’Bannon (of Farscape, V and The Triangle, among others) and directed by Jason Ensler–and produced by Josh Schwartz of Gossip Girl and Hart of Dixie, which may explain why it’s on the air at all– the fictional “Cult” appears to be about a reclusive group headed by Billy Grimm (the always seemingly-homicidal Rob Knepper), similar to the clan led by John Hawkes in Martha Marcy May Marlene, that lives on a farm and from time to time commits heinous crimes.  Cult is about the cult that’s obsessed with “Cult.”  This group, which may or may not somehow be getting its orders from “Cult” and/or its reclusive (and unseen) executive producer, restages violent scenes from the TV show with actual bloodshed.  In “Cult,” the main character is an FBI agent (Alona Tal) whose sister has apparently been abducted by the cult; the protagonist of Cult is crusading reporter Jeff Sefton (Matt Davis), whose brother has similarly gone missing.

Just figuring out what’s supposed to be going on in Cult is difficult and unsatisfying.  For no reason that the pilot even tries to explain, “Cult” staff researcher Skye Yarrow (Jessica Lucas) joins with Jeff to help him find his brother, providing such useful information as the location of a bar where the most fanatical TV crazies hang out to watch their favorite shows and simultaneously go online to the series websites, both official and secret.  (So that’s who goes to those sites!)  There are, of course, menacing messages embedded in the episodes and chatrooms of “Cult,” and parallels between what happens on “Cult” and actions in the real world.

Cult naturally wasn’t going to reveal all its secrets in the pilot, but it would have been nice if the show had at least set out some groundrules.  As it is, the impetus for the killings both on and off screen is completely unexplained, and the only character with any kind of understandable backstory is Jeff–and his is as cliched as they come:  the reporter who once lied in a story, thus ruining his career, in order to expose a greater truth.  We don’t even know why “Billy Grimm” is killing people, let alone the “Cult” fans, and while The Following has a specific villain for the audience to focus on, here there’s just an amorphous, vague conspiracy.

This might not matter so much if Cult were at least exciting, but the pilot is too silly to be even that.  Jeff’s brother gives Jeff a pair of 3D glasses before he vanishes, and sure enough, when the TV “Cult” cop puts on her own 3D glasses, Jeff realizes–eureka!– that they weren’t just a souvenir from Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters, but a way to find hidden website clues.  People both on and off “Cult” repeat a weird phrase about things snapping right off (sometimes before they blow their own heads off), but it’s too strange to even be scary.  The show also looks surprisingly shoddy by (even CW) network standards, unable to disguise its limited budget.  The acting, some of it by performers who’ve proven their capability elsewhere (Davis was a well-liked character on The Vampire Diaries), never gets beyond woodenly going through the genre motions.

One of the things that appears within the excerpts from “Cult” in Cult is a nearly-subliminal title card reading “Do Not Watch This,” and it must be said:  self-criticism is an admirable trait.


About the Author

Mitch Salem
MITCH SALEM has worked on the business side of the entertainment industry for 20 years, as a senior business affairs executive and attorney for such companies as NBC, ABC, USA, Syfy, Bravo, and BermanBraun Productions, and before that, at the NY law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges. During all that, he has more or less constantly been going to the movies and watching TV, and writing about both since the 1980s. His film reviews also currently appear on and In addition, he is co-writer of an episode of the television series "Felicity."