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Pilot Preview: The CW’s Cult 

Photo credit: JSquared/The CW
Photo credit: JSquared/The CW

Alaric is back on TV tonight! Well, not really. But Matt Davis will just have to do.

We’ve been hearing about Cult since it went to pilot last spring and was greenlit as a mid-season replacement. It seems like it’s been a long time getting here. The first available slot was post-Emily Owens, M.D., so here we are.

I’m not watching FOX’s The Following, so I can’t say how close this does or doesn’t hew to that show’s tone, but right out of the gate Cult repeatedly refers to Billy Grimm’s followers. Grimm is a character on a CW TV show called Cult within the actual CW TV show Cult. Confused yet? I’m going to distinguish them as Cult (the show premiering tonight) and alterCult for the show within the show. Hope that helps.

So we start off with alterCult, where Supernatural‘s Alona Tal is Kelly, a detective and former Grimm devotee partnered with Oz (Kadeem Hardison) to investigate the disappearance of her sister, Meadow, out in the dark Myers Woods. She finds her brother in-law buried alive inside a wall. He tells her “Oh, hey, these things just snap right off,” (which gets repeated by various characters throughout) before he dies. Then the show ends and we’re back in Cult in a cyber bar where folks have just taken in the latest episode of alterCult.

A young guy, Nate, is particularly rattled after watching the latest episode and following along online. He tells his friend, Merriam, that he’s found something and then he takes off. The next day, he contacts his brother, Jeff (Davis), an ex-D.C. reporter who’s enough older than Nate and already seen him through an addiction that he’s fed up with Nate’s latest obsession. When Nate disappears and all that remains is a blood-soaked chair, papers and clippings about alterCult, and the show playing on loop, Jeff starts to investigate the show.

Fortunately this times out with the arrival of Skye (Jessica Lucas), a new employee at the alterCult production who has her own suspicions about the secret network of fansites that are hyper-focused on the intricacies of Grimm and his followers and like to unravel alterCult’s mysteries and role play the characters. Skye also has her own personal mystery—her newsman dad disappeared years earlier and was never found.

Skye overhears Jeff trying to get an interview with the show’s (unseen) producer about his brother and pulls him aside to offer her help. Said shadowy showrunner, Steven Rae, is never seen and hides behind another producer (Everwood‘s Tom Amandes), so expect a big reveal later on. We have A LOT of people to sort through.

Skye easily undeletes Nate’s phone (a trick learned from a stint on a Bruckheimer show, she tells him), and learns that Nate was in contact with someone named Meadow who was looking for him. Next, Skye takes Jeff to the cyber bar and they find out about an RPG event. They go and find a frantic Merriam, who kills herself in front of them. Then the same cops who half-assed looking into Nate’s disappearance show up.

The detectives later find a kid in a dumpster who would seem to be the loser of the blood in Nate’s apartment when the DNA proves it isn’t Nate’s blood. It’s not a huge suprise to when the lead detective is revealed to be a Grimm devotee, bearing a tattooed cube, the mark of Grimm’s people.

Back at Nate’s, Jeff finds a DVD that matches a disc on alterCult. He calls Skye and she comes immediately and tells him putting the disc in his PC is a capital bad idea but he does it anyway. As soon as it spins up, several images flash by and Jeff inputs the “hey, these things…” phrase into the hangman-style screen that he can see with 3D glasses Nate gave him. Suddenly the screen changes to displaying code and then his phone rings. It’s Nate telling him to stop looking. Then the laptop uplinks all of his personal info and Grimm appears on his screen repeating “You’re next.”

Finally, a network fixer hired to course correct alterCult’s ratings is kidnapped by the waitress from the cyber bar and an unseen Grimm follower wearing a serious knife. And that’s our setup.

I liked the pilot. It’s got the creepy vibe down, and the promos within promos that have been running on the CW have helped build the show within a show idea but they seem to have had a hard time characterizing exactly what the show is. I really thought it was going to be more in the realm of the FOX series Freakylinks, which was ahead of the curve and canned after one season over a decade ago.

Instead, it’s a missing persons mystery wrapped inside the hysteria and insidiousness of what happens when fans get a little too aggressive in their love of a show and leave reality behind. There’s an interesting thesis in there, and series creator Rockne S. O’Bannon certainly has years of fandom experience to plough through. We’ll see what the CW does with it.

I’m glad to have Davis and Tal working. I like both of them. And Robert Knepper is effective as a cult leader you really don’t want to mess with. The show shot its first season in Vancouver and the pilot was chock full of HITGs, so there’s that aspect to look forward to, too. I’ll likely watch it every week more for Davis, Tal, and Vancouver than the actual story.

If the promos are accurate (big if when it comes to the CW), we could go very dark, very quickly—especially if the thing that snaps off is usually attached to a person—and I may rethink it as appointment TV.

Cult premieres tonight on the CW at 9 pm/8c with an after show on the CW website and You Tube. If you want to catch it early, it’s also online now at

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