A hot new conspiracy-thriller series from the States (cunningly titled Cult), dares to ask what would happen if someone made a TV show about a TV show about a murder-cult that was actually the cover for a real murder-cult? And the answer to that question is… it would get cancelled after seven episodes. Hah!
For some reason, no one spotted the inherent flaw in this ill-conceived premise, which doomed the series to inevitable failure: For a show like this one to succeed, with its narrative gimmicks and convoluted mythology, you really need to attract a dedicated and vocal fanbase… but the writers have chosen to depict the geeky fans of their show-within-a-show as creepy, unstable, obsessive freaks… and when the real killings kick in, they’re nothing but crazy, disposable, easily-manipulated lambs-to-the-slaughter! The hero of the piece, by contrast, is a generically-handsome hunk of a journalist with no real interest in the show beyond the fact that his younger brother (a delusional drug addict!) became wrapped up in unravelling its mythology, shortly before going missing . He’s aided in his investigation by a cute Cult production assistant, who only took the job because she believes that the show’s shadowy writer/creator, ‘Steven Rae’, was responsible for her father’s mysterious disappearance a decade earlier. Feh.
Aside from this rather cavalier and insulting antipathy towards the very people who could have made it a hit (or at least launched a Kickstarter campaign to get it revived as a movie at some point), Cult is also hampered by the fact that the faux-show seems a damn sight smarter, and more interesting than the “real” show around it… although that’s probably because we only get to see brief and sporadic highlights, so the characters don’t have as much time to piss me off as the main protagonists do. Seriously though, if you were an experienced journalist pulling at the threads of a slippery conspiracy, wouldn’t you maybe make an effort to document your investigation in some way? Time and time again this moron stumbles onto a vital confession or piece of physical evidence, which then immediately disappears without a trace as soon as he’s done passively listening or looking at it… so time and again I found myself wondering why he didn’t pull out his phone to make a record of what he was seeing/hearing? Doesn’t this guy have access to a dictaphone at least? And, yes, I know The Cult would just sneak in and steal it or smash it anyway, but at least make the effort, man! And if you found a sinister computer disc, and someone warned you that an identical disc in the faux-show contained a virus which uploaded all of the user’s personal data to the internet for The Cult to peruse/exploit, would you immediately slide it into a laptop with internet access? Or would you maybe consider unplugging the modem, until you’d seen what was on the real disc? GAH!!!
My sole reason for watching this dreck in the first place, was the casting of Alona Tal as ‘Marti Gerritsen’, the actress who plays the lead character in the faux-show (an ex-cult member turned police detective, whose sister has, y’know, mysteriously disappeared). I thought she did a great job selling the faux-show scenes, considering how she basically had to pull all of her emotions, and establish her character’s whole backstory, out of thin air… and, as I say, if that had been the real-show, it would probably have been a much bigger hit, because the characters seem far more capable and compelling , and Tal makes for a very strong lead actress. Sadly the character she plays in the real-show is just a bland, blah supporting character… I think the most interesting thing she does in all seven episodes (aside from being attacked by an evil uber-fan) is read a glossy magazine and gossip with crew members. Such a waste!
[I have to say though, their word-in-a-box logo is straight-up genius. Even though I thought this show was arse-gravy, I’d still totally wear a T-shirt with that emblem on it!]