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Cult 1.01 "You're Next" Review

Last week saw the premiere of Cult. The first episode, “You’re Next” was directed by Jason Ensler and written by creator Rockne S. O’Bannon. I was very much looking forward to this show and its unusual show within a show format as I’m a big fan of all things “meta”. You may be wondering, then, why it’s taken me a week to post this review. Unfortunately, the concept fell flat for me – and given the rather dismal ratings on the first episode, for many others as well. The show is very much a continuous and complicated puzzle, so going forward, it’s difficult to imagine that people will be able to comfortably just jump in to the story line. I’ve taken a week to reflect on what worked and why overall I felt it didn’t work – I also re-watched the episode several times.
            The thing I did like about the show was all the in jokes. Fake Empire is the production company for the show “Cult” which airs on the CW network. It really is the show “Cult” within the show Cult, and Fake Empire is the production company for it too. In fact, the somewhat annoying producer trying to get an interview with the elusive creator of “Cult” says he worked for Gossip Girl, which was produced by... you guessed it – Fake Empire. 
Jessica Lucas and Matthew Davis
            The show was originally created for the WB, back when it still existed, and had been on hold until a revised version came forward in January 2012. In the interim, one of the CW’s biggest shows with a very active fanbase has been Supernatural. There were a couple of shout outs to that show as well. When Jeff (Matthew Davis) and Skye (Jessica Lucas) go to Fan_dom_ain, there is an episode of Supernatural playing on one of the televisions. The journal that Jeff finds in Nate’s (James Pizzinato) apartment looks very much like John’s journal from Supernatural. Supernatural is also about two brothers and features a vintage muscle car. Fans of Supernatural are known to show up to watch filming just as the “Cult” fans do.
            As I said, I liked the concept of the show within a show, but the execution of it had a number of problems. Primarily, it felt very much as if the actors were acting like they were acting. Any tension created by the show was lost for me because the performances were so stilted. I’m a huge fan of Alona Tal who plays Marti Gerritsen, the actor playing Kelly Collins, but I felt she was wasted here. Possibly going forward we’ll get to see Tal demonstrate her talents as Gerritsen, and I might be convinced to stick around for that. Robert Knepper, playing Roger Reeves the actor playing Billy Grimm had slightly more to do – primarily looking directly at the camera and thus the audience and looking very creepy. However, a lot of the suspense was lost by the stiltedness of the portrayal. 
Robert Knepper and Alona Tal
            The basic plot seemed a bit cliché and not that difficult to figure out. In fact, it seemed a bit far-fetched for Skye and Jeff to take so long to see the parallels between what was happening on the show and what was happening in “real” life. And was anyone surprised when Detective Sakelik (Aisha Hinds) turned out to be a cult member? I will say that Hinds was another member of the cast that had me excited about the show, and she did turn in a very strong performance.
            A big part of what didn’t work for me was the entire portrayal of fandom. It felt very much like this was the industry’s take on fandom – taken to an extreme, of course. Nonetheless, it seems like “Cult” has only been on for 14 episodes – if Nate’s DVR is to be trusted – and yet it has this huge fanbase and extensive Internet presence and network. Fans are also portrayed as obsessed and generally without a life – again, clichéd. Perhaps most importantly, if you portray fans in such a negative light, what are the chances of garnering a strong fanbase yourself? One thing that did resonate for me, is when Jeff asks Skye in the fan cafe what they are doing. Skye responds that they are “Watching, looking for clues, connections.” That for me was a more accurate description of what a fan does. They watch the show and look for clues, but clues that provide a connection with their own life. Fans also form a fanbase by finding that common ground or connection between fans themselves. That kind of bond is a much healthier and more positive connection than the destructive one portrayed here.
            Admittedly, my thoughts are based on only the first episode. A lot of balls were thrown in the air to begin the series, so it may be unfair not to see where those balls land before making any final decisions. What did you think of the first episode of Cult? Will you be watching tonight? Let me know in the comments below.

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