Episode 1: You're Next
By: Carlos Uribe
Cult is a show about fanatics of a show-within-a-show called Cult and a production assistant and reporter who investigate them.
What is the best way to describe Cult? Imagine that a group of fans got really passionate about The Following. They decide that they're going to create their own serial killer cult that mimics the show. That's basically what Cult is about. It just so happens to premiere after the Following but this show was conceived six years ago. It was originally developed for the old WB network but the order was canceled when it was merged with UPN. It was killed by the newly formed network but it did look into reviving it. It didn't at first but now it has changed leaders. The development history shows that there was a strong belief in the premise. The question is if this show is any good? No. There might have been an intelligent way to execute the idea behind this show but that didn't happen. Cult is a pretty terrible show with weak characters, a stupid plot, and inconsistent performances. It does have a few saving graces. The first is that the direction of the pilot is actually pretty good. Jason Ensler does a good job at making sure that the show-within-a-show has a distinct look that's separate from what's supposed to be reality. He might not have a smart script to work with but he does the best that he can. The second saving grace is that this is a show that is so bad that it's good. There's never a dull moment in Cult and it'll be easy to get sucked into the plot. This is a show that works best when you're not really thinking at all.
The plot begins by introducing us to reporter Jeff Sefton. The actor portraying him, Mathew Davis, is known for his role as Alaric in the Vampire Diaries. He does a decent job as Jeff but there are some lines he simply can't sell. This reporter is working at Los Angeles for a minor newspaper but he used to work for the Post. It turns out that he had gotten fired for lying about a source so that six corrupt cops would be locked up. It appears that television writers know only one way to drag a character into a conspiracy: a character goes missing. I hate that plot technique but Cult goes along with it. I'm not sure why Jeff couldn't just investigate the show because he was a journalist and got a tip that something fishy was going on. This need to add stakes by having a missing brother doesn't work because the only thing we know about him is that he has an addictive personality. The brother is a former drug addict who easily gets obsessed. When the police don't seem to be taking the investigation seriously, Jeff decides to find his brother by himself. He's quickly joined by Skye, a production assistant on the show who can relate to Jeff because her father had gone missing. It helps that she was interested in the hidden fan community that seems to genuinely be afraid of the show or other fans. The plot is filled with stupid decisions and reveals too much about the characters through dialogue but it's still pretty addicting.
The show does not have the strongest characters. Jeff is a reporter. He has a brother that he cares about but who easily annoys him. He's had to take care of his little brother ever since their parents died. That's all there is to the character. There is nothing about what drove him to be a reporter or what even led him to lie. His passion for journalism is supposed to shine through but his complaints to his current boss felt forced. Jeff is so far not really a character but a vehicle to introduce us into the world of Cult. He's as unfamiliar with the fake show as the audience which allows the series to feed us the necessary information in an effective manner. The female lead is weaker. She's a production assistant who is good at her job and who has a missing father. That's basically all that there is to the character. If Jeff acts as the audience's vehicle then Skye is going to act as the guide. Her work with the show makes her familiar to it which means that she can be of great assistance when it comes to figuring out show trivia. It also helps that her research has made her an expert of recovering deleted cell phone data, which basically means she's good at technology on this show.
There aren't that many other characters listed as main ones. There is Marti Gerritsen. We don't actually meet her but we do meet the character she plays on the fake Cult show. Her character is called Kelly Collins, a dedicated cop trying to take down a cult leader. She used to belong to his cult. She's basically a typical cop character with a connection to the fake series bad guy. The other character is Roger Reeves. We only meet this actor for a second but his character Billy Grimm is the cult leader. There's hints that Reeves might actually be involved in the fanatical cult outside the show as well but I wouldn't be surprised if this is a red herring. The character he plays is a typical evil cult leader that is able to manipulate people into doing his will. That's basically all the main characters. There is one more important side characters in the pilot: a cop who is also secretly a member of the cult. That's all that there is to her. There are also references to the creator of the show-within-a-show. This character doesn't make public appearances and seems to be the sole writer of the fake Cult. I have a theory that he's secretly behind the fanatical cult and is Skye's father. This is just the kind of show that would try to pull that off.
You're Next serves as the pilot for Cult. It has been a long road for the project but was it worth it? I can't answer that for certainty. The pilot might have sucked but I can't find myself but wanting to see how the plot develops. To give credit where credit is due, this show is very ambitious and that it manages to be as coherent as it is should be commended. The direction is tight and I love the musical score. It's addicting as heck. It's just too bad there isn't an actual good show surrounding these elements.
I think it's suggested that Jeff watches the whole season of Cult at the end or at least a few episodes. Apparently he just likes to stand and look at the television rather than grabbing a chair like a normal person.