Cult: Review: Season 1 Eps 2 & 3

CULTABC, 26 February & 8 March 2013

Journalist Jeff and show researcher Skye continue to investigate the going on surrounding TV show Cult, including a copycat burial and a University re-enactment group…

Three episodes in and not only has Cult moved transmission night to Fridays at 9pm (the so-called “death slot” from which no show recovers), but the show itself has proved to be a huge disappointment after a fairly decent opener.

The series is suffering hugely from a wooden and charisma free lead in Matthew Davis, little helped by Jessica Lucas as the show researcher who is helping him investigate her own show and the disappearance of his brother. The missing brother plot is a poor driver for drama, and the events of the second and third episodes were rather tired and formulaic.

The levels of reality (behind the scenes of the show, those investigating the show and the fans, and the on-screen bits of the actual show we see) are not working well in tandem, and actors Robert Knepper and Alona Tal (both perfectly fine in other things—in fact Knepper’s T-Bag on Prison Break was a hoot) don’t seem to be doing much to differentiate their on screen and off screen characters. The dialogue is far too on the nose, if not quite stooping to the depths of “As you know, Jeff…” type lines, but it is close on occasion.

None of this might matter so much if only one of other of these problems plagued the show, but the combination can be deadly. It also wouldn’t matter as much either if the series was a bizarre as Zero Hour (which was clearly too bizarre for viewers as it has been pulled after just three episodes), but the plots are rote, and when it does get interesting (as in Kirstie’s seduction of Knepper’s actor character) it has to pull its punches as it ain’t on a cable channel like HBO, AMC or Showtime. The underlying kinkiness of those scenes was diluted to virtual non-existence, giving them no impact.

Related to Kirstie’s strange character, it might help if we knew what the various factions were after, but three episodes in the audience is entirely in the dark, so why should we care? What does Kirstie (and whoever she keeps calling up) want? What is Jeff’s missing brother up to? How is the tattooed cop involved? These are annoying questions rather than compelling reasons to tune in next week.

It’s a shame, because the talents on screen and behind the scenes on this show are not fools—Rockne O’Bannon and ‘consulting producer’ (his pal) David Kemper have a solid innovative track record, especially with Farscape, while Knepper and Tal are fan favourites in other shows, including Supernatural.

The hidden messages stuff and fan participation tropes that the show seems to be partly about and is attempting to incorporate into itself are not enough to secure a dedicated audience: give us some high stakes drama, interesting characters and a better actor than Matthew Davis as the lead… There’s too much wrong with Cult too early to bode well…

Verdict: Cult really needs to raise its game quickly, or it’ll be game over for the show.

Episode 2 ‘In The Blood’: 4/10

Episode 3 ‘Being Billy’: 3/10

Brian J. Robb

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