TV Review - Cult

Matthew Davis and Jessica Lucas in "Cult"
Matthew Davis (The Vampire Diaries) stars as Jeff Sefton, a reporter who used to work for The Washington Post. He goes to Los Angeles after he gets a call from his brother, Nate, warning him that people linked to a TV show are after him. Jeff learns that Nate has gone missing and foul-play may have been involved.

Jessica Lucas (Melrose Place) co-stars as Skye, a production assistant on a TV show called "Cult." She meets Jeff because he thinks the show is involved with his brother's disappearance. She believes that the creator of this show, a man named Steven Rae, is up to shady things. Even though Steven Rae is never seen, apparently he runs this show strictly and Skye suspects Steven Rae is using the show as a way of building a possibly, murderous flock.

Robert Knepper (Prison Break) plays Roger Reeves, the lead actor in the show-within-the-show. His character Billy Grimm is a cult leader who might be the not-so-fictional representative for Steven Rae. Knepper has scenes where he's playing an arrogant and opinionated actor as well as scenes of him playing the cult leader of the show-within-the-show. Both kinds of scenes are often depicted with the same aesthetic and reality, which is a tactic I last saw done by Disney's The Famous Jett Jackson, a kid's show that handled it better.

The problem is that the show-within-the-show is vastly more interesting than the actual storyline of Jeff looking for his missing brother. Yet, we only get drips of the show-within-the-show. The reason the Jeff storyline is less interesting because everything is predicated on two things, which the first four episodes do little to explicate. One is how popular this show-within-the-show is, especially in a fragmented TV landscape. Two is the purpose of the so-called cult in which Nate is caught.

Unlike with recent films about modern-day cults, such as Martha Marcy May Marlene (2011) and Sound of My Voice (2012), as well as the series The Following, this new TV show doesn't immerse us in the world of the cult. Cult keeps its cult at a distance and in the shadows, so we have no clue why we should care about any of this.

The mystery of the cult could have been acceptable, if the rest of the show weren't so boring. Jeff keeps discovering things from the show-within-the-show popping up in his real life. It seems as if Cult is trying to comment on the re-occurring scapegoat of violence in media causing real-life violence, but everything here happens in a bubble with no repercussions to the outside world. For example, a huge explosion is brushed over and the characters in it react as if it didn't affect them at all.

Matthew Davis is a good and a gorgeous-looking actor. I first fell in love with him in Tigerland (2000). He's appeared in various films and TV shows since in which I've enjoyed him, but here he's just being pulled along by a lame plot, episode by episode. He gets one moment in the first, four episodes to shine, but for the majority of it he's in the dark. Similarly, Jessica Lucas gets one brief moment in the first, four episodes to shine, but, for the rest of the time, she's just being pulled along too.

The fourth episode titled "Get With the Program" exemplifies the show's problems. The episode introduces a moral dilemma and we're given a few scenes of dialogue to discuss it, but it's ultimately given no weight. We're not sure what, if any, effect it has on the protagonist. If there is no effect, which how it seems, then I don't get why the morality was even discussed at all.

Lastly, the excitement or stakes are yawn-inducing. I know that the popularity of premium cable shows has producers of even network television shows changing how they structure their programs. The premium cable shows, particularly the premium cable dramas, don't conform to the traditional five-act structure. Yes, the five-act structure preceeded hour-long TV dramas, but the five-act structure fits, due to the five commercial breaks that are taken during a hour-long drama on network television.

Typically, the end of each of the five acts leads into a commercial. In order to keep audiences watching and in order to ensure audiences aren't clicking to another channel during the TV ads, drama producers typically end the act on a cliffhanger or some kind of exciting or controversial moment. Soap operas like General Hospital do it well. Ringer, the short-lived thriller starring Sarah Michelle Gellar, which Cult essentially replaced, did it very well or, if anything, better.

Those act breaks often raise the stakes or ups the ante of whatever's happening in the drama or it simply puts the protagonist in some kind of danger. Cult, specifically in this fourth episode, doesn't do that. The show goes to a commercial break and it made me shrug shoulders, proclaiming, "So, what?"

One Star out of Five.
Rated TV-14-LV.
Running Time: 1 hr.
Tuesdays at 9PM on CW.


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