Fans of the hit TV show ‘Cult’ are going missing: is there a conspiracy that encompasses not only the fanatical viewers, but the show’s actors and creators too…?
Creating a would-be cult TV show about the makers and fans of a fictional cult TV show called ‘Cult’ may be one meta-textual level too far for most viewers, but it is what Farscape co-creator Rockne S. O’Bannon is attempting with this intriguing series.
Drawing on his own experiences with the fanatical fan bases of Farscape and Alien Nation, O’Bannon has set out to pre-fabricate a cult show about a cult show. This opening episode, ‘You’re Next’, only hints at the possibilities involved, and is a good starting point that doesn’t do too much to frighten either the television executives who commissioned it nor the viewers who will turn up to watch it.
The show features excerpts from the TV series ‘Cult’, in which cop (and ex-cult member) Kelly Collins (Supernatural‘s Alona Tal) investigates cult leader Billy Grimm (the always great Robert Knepper). In later episodes, we’ll no doubt see these actors playing the part of the actors who portray Collins and Grimm in ‘Cult’ (see how difficult this could be to write about coherently!). In fact, there is the briefest of glimpses of Knepper as the off-screen actor who plays Grimm (currently nameless) in this opener. Both Knepper and Tal are well cast, with Tal in particular getting the chance to develop her appeal beyond Supernatural die-hards.
Less known are Matt Davis as investigative journalist Jeff Sefton, drawn into the mysteries of the TV show ‘Cult’ when his fan-boy brother disappears, and Jessica Lucas as Skye Yarrow, a curious researcher on the show who hooks up with Jeff in his investigation. They’re both fine, as far as this first episode goes, and hopefully their slight blandness will disappear quickly in the first few instalments. There are other cops also sniffing around the various mysteries the first episode throws up, but can they entirely be trusted?
O’Bannon knows the ins-and-outs of modern TV production, so setting part of his show behind the scenes of ‘Cult’ is a clever move, and an area no doubt to be developed over subsequent episodes, especially concerning the mysterious creator and Executive Producer of the show, the enigmatic Steven Rae (who is also mischievously credited as the EP on Cult itself). Like Rae, O’Bannon’s show is widely plugged in to the modern accoutrements of fandom, including web pages, viral videos, mysterious puzzles to be solved (both on the show and online), and so on. It’s an underexplored area, but the danger O’Bannon faces is making his show too ‘in’ with its references and failing to breakout beyond the geek cultures of television fandom. At least Cult has a lot more going for it than the recent execrable Do No Harm, but even at this early stage it shows signs of thinking it is cleverer than it really is…
Although some of the ‘real world’ writing and info-dumping is a little on-the-nose, the cliche nature of the show-within-the show can be forgiven (at least at this early stage), as the series sets out its stall and tries hard not to frighten the horses too much as it does so.
Verdict: Not as big nor as clever as it thinks it is, Cult nonetheless shows promise for a multi-layered narrative that potentially will bite the hand that feed…
Episode 1 ‘You’re Next’: 7/10
Brian J. Robb