Review by C.J. Bunce
What hidden evil lurks in the hearts of TV producers? There must be something going around in Hollywood about cults and serial killers. That is, cults made up of serial killers. Last month we reviewed the pilot of The Following, starring Kevin Bacon as a has-been detective tracking down a recently escaped serial killer. It’s four episodes in and so far, so good. Starting Tuesday on the CW Network another new cult themed series debuts, titled Cult. We at borg.com previewed the pilot and found both of these new series have enough differences, and enough going for them, to watch and keep watching them both.
CW’s Cult offers enough layers of creative theatrics that you’ll want to check it out just to see how the producers introduce a series-within-a-series. That’s right–Cult is two shows in one. The series centers on a fictional Warner Bros. production of a TV show called “Cult,” featuring an actor named Roger Reeves (Robert Knepper) who in turn is playing the character of Billy Grimm, a charismatic, religious, rural cult leader. The fictional “Cult” also stars an actress named Marti Gerritsen (played in real life by Alona Tal) as LAPD detective Kelly Collins. Formerly close to Grimm, Collins is trying to learn what happened to her sister and her sister’s son, somehow taken under the influence of Grimm’s cult. Genre fans will instantly recognize Knepper from Heroes, Prison Break, and SGU Stargate Universe, as well as his guest roles on Star Trek: The Next Generation and Star Trek Voyager, and Alona Tal as Veronica’s best pal Meg on Veronica Mars, Jo Harville from Supernatural, and notable guest roles on Monk and Leverage.
This series-within-the-series is a quick-paced mystery with a horror twist and altogether pretty fun stuff. Tal is tough and determined and Knepper brings in just the right amount of creepiness. And he acts differently when seen outside the series as actor Roger Reeves. In fact, we hope the producers break out of form at some point to show complete episodes of the inside show. At times the show-within-the-show looks like it could quickly suck in viewers more than the main plot. It even includes a bizarre and creepy catch-phrase likely to stick around in genre culture.
The main plot of Cult follows Matt Davis (The Vampire Diaries, In Plain Sight) as Jeff Sefton, a reporter once fired from the Washington Post who would otherwise have nothing to do with Hollywood or the in-world television series “Cult,” except for a paranoid brother who seems obsessed with the show. The brother disappears after making a cryptic phone call to Jeff, leaving Jeff to search the production on the Warner Bros. lot, looking for help from anyone to find out what happened to his brother. To do that he befriends a new CW Network research staffer named Skye, played by Jessica Lucas (Cloverfield, Psych, Evil Dead 2013). Parallels in the show begin to mirror the real world outside the series, including a pair of prop 3D glasses that turns up having a role in both worlds. And episode one reveals that the fans of the “Cult” series are somehow involved in all the odd goings-on.
Not only is the CW Network the network behind the real-world series, but it’s also the network behind the series-within-the-series (even using familiar aerial shots of the actual lot where CW series are filmed to tell viewers where we are), advertising its logo in appropriate commercial breaks as the series perspective moves between worlds. It all sounds bizarre but it works, and creates many possibilities for playing with this idea in and out of reality for future episodes. For added mystique the creator of the series listed at the end of the pilot, Stephen Rae, is the same name as the mysterious executive producer of the show-inside-the-show. Insert Twilight Zone theme here.
Better yet, it’s nothing like The Following. You’ll like The Following if you’re after real-life terror—the gritty, gory, bleak stuff of the real world. You’ll like Cult if you’re after a supernatural mystery tour with some innovative storytelling devices, and jumps and starts like you’d see in shows like Scream and Supernatural. Several new series are gearing up this year, but we think these two will be survivors for different audiences (or those that go for both).
Cult begins next Tuesday, February 19, 2013, at 8 p.m. Central/9 p.m. Eastern.