February 27, 2013



CULT:  Tuesday 9PM on CW

Previously… on CULT:  Stay with me here.  “Cult” is a fictional TV series that airs on a fictional version of the CW, in which the deranged followers of Billy Grimm (Rob Knepper) murder, torture and commit various other crimes at his behest, including the abduction of the sister of FBI Agent Kelly Collins (Alona Tal), a former member of the group, who’s pursuing him with grim determination.  Cult is an actual TV series that airs on the actual CW, in which deranged fans of “Cult” receive secret embedded codes and messages from the TV show and its associated media, murdering, torturing and committing various other crimes at their behest, including the abduction of Nate, the brother of intrepid reporter Jeff Sefton (Matthew Davis), who with “Cult” staff member Skye (Jessica Lucas) is pursuing them with grim determination.  Anyone can turn out to be one of the cult members, including LAPD detective Sakelink (Aisha Hinds), who’s supposedly investigating Nate’s disappearance.  Clues and plot points from “Cult” recur and are echoed on Cult.

Episode 2:  The script for the second episode of Cult is credited to “Steven Rae,” which happens to be the name of the mysterious and thus-far unseen fictional creator of “Cult”–IMDB helpfully confirms that “Rae” is a pseudonym for Cult creator Rockne S. O’Bannon.  (The episode’s direction is credited to one Sam Hill, who has no other IMDB credits other than this one effort, so that might be a pseudonym as well.)  This gives some idea of the strenuous efforts Cult is making to cultivate its hall-of-mirrors set of mysteries.  All of which might be fun if Cult were any good, but it isn’t proving to be (nor, as far as we can tell, is “Cult”).

Whether written by Rae or O’Bannon, the second episode continued the kind of ridiculous plotting evident in the pilot, where at one point Jeff, despite plenty of warning that a mystery disc could do damage if run on his computer, inserted the disc anyway and had his identity stolen and hard drive wiped, seemingly much to his shock, and where Sakelink, who presumably doesn’t want people to know she’s a member of a homicidal cult, was revealed to have the cult’s tattoo about an inch above her wrist where anyone could see it.  This time Sakelink continued her run of high-voltage intelligence by publicly kissing the widower of a cult member who had just committed suicide–at her supposedly empty funeral.  (Jeff and Skye saw this as they hid behind a gravestone, like members of the Scooby Gang.)  It also featured a scene where Jeff abruptly became paranoid about Skye’s motives in helping him, but was instantly assuaged when she told him she’d been investigating Steven Rae for 10 years, suspecting he was involved in the death of her father–even though there was no evidence at all to suggest that this was true and not the further lies of a cult member. It’s also the kind of show where, if a single image out of what we’re told are thousands is enlarged from what’s left of Jeff’s computer, that image will be the only one found half an hour later on the wall of a cult member’s (soon to be incinerated) home.

On the housekeeping front, Episode 2 introduced the inevitable IT expert needed to help out the investigation, here the perky EJ (Stacey Farber), who’s like a low-wattage version of Arrow‘s Felicity, and we got the first glimpses of the actors who play the leads in “Cult” out of character, Knepper as Roger Reeves and Tal as Marti Gerritsen.  (There was the suggestion that “Steven Rae” would take the kind of decisive action against the complaining Reeves that most series creators like O’Bannon probably wish they could impose on their own actors.)

Cult is badly written, with what sounds like first-draft expository dialogue, its characters so far are nothing but cardboard, and the direction (by Sam Hill or whoever) has the annoying mannerism of distinguishing Cult from “Cult” by filming the former with non-stop jittery hand-held camerawork.  Beyond all that, of course the show can’t escape comparison with The Following, which is unspooling a very similar saga on FOX. The Following has its own shortcomings, but it’s a far more accomplished piece of TV drama, with a moderately clear trajectory, well-aimed scares and an expert cast headed by Kevin Bacon and Natalie Zea.  It’s hard to imagine why anyone who wants to watch this kind of story would chose the Cult version.

Whether because of The Following or not, the number of people tuning in to Cult‘s premiere was hardly more than a cult itself, as the series scored only an awful 0.3 rating.  Even for CW, that’s a rerun-level number, and it suggests that Cult (and “Cult”) won’t be around long enough to register any improvement.

ORIGINAL VERDICT:  Change the Channel

PILOT +1:  By Far the Lesser of Broadcast TV’s Midseason Killing Sprees 


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."