Review: ‘Cult’: Welcome to the funhouse
I streamed the pilot of The CW’s newest bag of crazy, ‘Cult’, this past weekend (it was released early on Hulu), in between marathoning old ‘Supernatural’ episodes and YouTubing videos of Jensen Ackles singing “Eye of the Tiger.” And I have to say, it’s kind of confusing.
‘Cult’ stars Matt Davis (of ‘The Vampire Diaries’) as a disgraced reporter whose brother’s strange and sudden disappearance is somehow tied to a cult TV show on a fictional version of The CW that is also called ‘Cult’.
The concept is quite confusing to explain on paper, and it makes a lot more sense once you’ve seen the episode, but for the sake of this review, the best way to explain it is that it’s basically ‘Inception’. There’s a TV show inside of a TV show and they’re both bordering on wackadoo crazy.
I’ve made a handy infographic to better explain this…
There, I hope that cleared things up a bit.
Davis’ character Jeff is skeptical of his brother Nate’s obsessions, because, you see, Nate is a recovering addict and his behavior follows that of an addict. He’s jumping from one addiction to another. It doesn’t matter that he’s not on drugs, he’s fanatically following a TV show and Jeff’s tired of constantly having to worry about his brother’s life. So when Nate tells Jeff the age old, “THEY’RE AFTER ME BECAUSE I KNOW TOO MUCH” line, Jeff looks at him like most of us would (like he’s balls crazy). He’s sighs exasperatedly and tells his brother to grow up and that he doesn’t have time for his shenanigans. It doesn’t help Nate’s cause that he brought his Big Journal O’Crazy, a journal that is filled with theories and notes about ‘Cult’ (the fake one) and then hands Jeff a pair of 3-D glasses and tells him they’ll be important later.
But after Nate goes missing, Jeff decides to check out his one and only clue: the fictional TV show ‘Cult’. By using his old business card and pretending to be doing a piece on the hit show (it’s unclear whether they mean “hit” by CW standards or you know, normal network standards), he gains access to the set.
Once the publicist for the show discovers Jeff’s no longer employed by the Washington Post (I think), she shuts him down. Hard. But an eavesdropping research assistant named Skye, played by Jessica Lucas, who was seen earlier in the episode talking about the wackadoo fan sites she’d stumbled across on the Internet (stumbled isn’t really the right term, as she had to go through what I assume to be the equivalent of eight padlocked doors, a three-headed dog, four drunk goblins and a few Destial shippers), takes an interest in Jeff and his missing brother story and decides that she doesn’t really need to work the rest of the day and leads Jeff to an underground bar/club/hangout? for fans of TV shows, a place where they can gather and talk about the show. It’s basically what Tumblr would be if it were a real place.
The shows goes on to lead Jeff on a hunt for his brother, which is based mostly on small clues, like a photograph of his brother dressed up as the insane cult leader from the TV show, and a woman named Merriam. But it doesn’t do much else. There’s some rather shallow bonding between Jeff and Skye as she recounts why she knows what it’s like to have a family member disappear and never know the truth about what happened (her father disappeared when she was in high school). There’s an elusive TV show creator named Steven Rae, who presumably holds all the answers (42!), but no one can seem to get to him. There’s a weird sort of catchphrase from the fake show, “Well hey, these things just snap right off,” that people in the real world utter right before they reenact death scenes that take place on the fake show.
The pilot sets up an interesting (for lack of a better term) premise, and it poses a lot of questions without any answers. But if there were answers in tonight’s pilot, there’d really be no reason for the next twelve episodes to exist.
Critics from around the web have panned the show for its ridiculous premise and its up-its-own-butt kind of mentality, but you know what? I’m not a professional critic. I don’t get paid to give my opinion, I just do it out of the goodness of my heart. And despite the show’s rather ridiculous premise – a man disappears after crazy people start reenacting crimes committed on a cult TV show called “Cult” on a fictional version of The CW – I like it.
Is it on par with ‘Breaking Bad?’ Of course not. Hell, it probably won’t ever reach the level of ‘The Vampire Diaries’, but the show provides us with an interesting look at how we, as fans, interact, both with each other and with our shows. It’s kind of disconcerting, but also a little fun, to see versions of ourselves reflected back at us in a sort of funhouse mirror.
As I watched the pilot on Saturday, I tweeted, “Matt’s character thinks his brother is loony and weird for being obsessed with a TV show. Awkward.” And then I realized, there’s two kinds of people in this world. There’s the weirdos (fans) with the crazy journals full of conspiracy theories and drawings (Tumblrs), and there there are the Matt Davises, the rest of the world who doesn’t understand the pure unadulterated joy that comes with fully immersing yourself in an obsession. They don’t understand how fun it can be to spend eight hours marathoning a TV show. And those people are no fun. If crazy people like us didn’t exist, Netflix would probably go bankrupt.
So all of those critics who disliked the show and thought it was completely outrageous and not worth watching – you might be right; the show might be canceled before the whole season airs or it might not be renewed – but it’s going to be fun watching our ridiculously crazy counterparts on screen.
And even if you don’t consider yourself a fangirl or a fanboy, there’s still a deeper meaning to be found about how we interact with the media and how we let it control our thoughts and opinions, on everything from politics to what TV shows we spend our time watching. And if you can’t at least appreciate or recognize that, then you need to take a step back and stop watching TV and stop reading all those television reviews telling you what to watch. Because if you strictly watch what people tell you to watch or what other people tell you is good, then you’ll never have an honest or original opinion, and you’ll never understand that shows like ‘Cult’, even with all of their wackadoo crazy, can be kind of fun.
Note: Photo courtesy of The CW.