I was momentarily excited by the idea behind The Cult. On paper, The Cult looks like it’s a parody of The Following, a perversely violent show about a serial killer fan club. The Cult is about a journalist investigating a TV show called “The Cult.” The premise is that the show within the show has somehow birthed its own secret country-wide following which does unspeakable things in the name of the fake TV show. There’s a big conspiracy, murder, mystery, all somehow linked to this fake television show called “The Cult” (the writers did us reviewers no favors by naming the fake TV show after the real one). The whole idea is beautifully ludicrous. And the fact that it premieres a month after The Following certainly gives it an edge, as does the fact that it was created by Rockne S. O’Bannon who made Farscape, which I love.
A show like The Cult could have been a lot of fun. Its premise is relentlessly silly and adventurous. It could easily have become a modern They Live, mixing campy, over-the-top humor with actual social statements. Unfortunately, it does nothing of the sort. What could have been a gleeful undressing of overly self-serious TV is, itself, overly self-serious TV. The Cult goes for high tension, life or death stakes, dark foreboding scenery, plenty of brooding, murder, suicide, all with a straight face. And this is a show with easily the most laughable premise on television.
In the end, I’m left wondering what O’Bannon is trying to say about his fake TV show. Is he saying that our obsession with violence and inhumanity is making us into mindless slaves? Then why make his show about violence and inhumanity? See, this is the problem. The two universes within The Cult – the one of the fake show with Alona Tal horribly miscast as a cop, and the one about an evil TV show conspiracy – have so little contrast you can hardly tell them apart. The acting, production, and writing are so abysmally bad in both universes, that any critique that Rockne wants to levy against television he winds up levying against himself. A mirror held in front of another mirror is just a whole lot of nothing.