Written By: Rockne S. O'Bannon
Draft Date: January 6, 2011 (I suspect the title page means 2012, but that's what's on it)
Scripts like Cult are what I like to read. It's imaginative and ambitious, to say the least. Ambition and a distinct voice are what broadcast shows need if the networks want to stop ceding ground to cable and its supposed hands-off executives and creator/showrunners' creative license and freedom.
Which is not to say that Cult is going to work, mind you, as either a pilot or a series. I just like the fact that someone (Mark Pedowitz) picked something like this up to shoot. This was the third CW script I read and, IIRC, the first pickup made. When I read it (and I held off on reviews until I'd read all five of the dramas picked up so far), my first thought was "If Cult is the vision Mark Pedowitz has for the post-Dawn Ostroff CW, then things are really going to change on the netlet." Now having read and reviewed Mile High Medical and read The Carrie Diaries... well, let's just say that some bets are being hedged.
Cult is about as far away from Gossip Girl as you can imagine. It's a swing-for-the-fences kind of show. The thing about trying to hit a home run is (*note: I have no idea if this is actually true in baseball*) you're going to miss more often than if trying to just get a solid on-base hit.
Or something about a pop fly to left field? I don't know. Sports aren't really my thing.
Anyway, Cult is one of those shows that is either going to be a hit or a spectacular failure. These kinds of big idea shows tend to be one or the other, and for every Lost or Heroes, there's... every show that was spawned by the networks trying to make a compatible lead-out or get their own version of said hit.
But what is Cult? I'm still trying to answer that question. It's a show so darkly meta I don't quite know what to make of it, where obsession with television and television shows and the delusion that fiction might be bleeding into reality is, itself, the point. It kind of winks at you and says "it's just TV!" then asks, "but wait... is it?"
Cult is about a detective, Eric Collins, whose family has been kidnapped, he believes, by this really nefarious cult leader, Billy Grimm. But Billy's smart. He has minions, lots of minions. Brainwashed minions. They do his bidding, so his hands are clean. But our hero is sure that he's responsible. And, naturally he wants his family back.
But wait. That's just the plot of Cult, the television show within the show Cult. This show. Man, people are obsessed with it. It's kind of creepy, and it's got all of these audience-participation add-ons, online components, etc. It's the kind of show you watch with a group or people but no one is allowed to talk, or alone in a dark and you turn your cell phone off because god forbid someone calls you during it. It's the kind of show where even if you work on it, like go-fer Skye Yarrow, you don't know what's coming next. You've never met the boss, Steven Rae. The crew gets annoyed when they're told some small detail, like a graffiti symbol in the background, isn't right because, dammit, the smallest details are just that important because THE FANS WILL NOTICE. The network brass want to make the show more accessible, etc.
But, really, Cult is about Jeff Sefton, a shamed reporter trying to rebuild his reputation whose younger brother, Nate, is obsessed with the show Cult (and we're talking way beyond the obsession of, say, a Lost fan who wrote 4 8 15 16 23 42 on a chalkboard after Numbers aired in 2005... not that I'm admitting to anything...), who is scared for his life, believes that the show Cult is something more than just a show, and goes missing or, perhaps, has been murdered... leaving clues only Jeff can pick up on. Will Jeff jump down the rabbit hole for his brother? Can he believe that something more than a TV show is happening? Jeff's first attempt at finding the truth is to visit the set of the show, where he meets Skye, and eventually an unlikely partnership is forged between a skeptic and a believer.
Oh, and there are a helluva lot of other plots and characters (like meeting the actors who play the characters on the TV, a number of scenes from the show (which is, actually, kinda of arch/big), and more.
So... is your head spinning?
There are elements I don't love. I think that some of the crosses between the show-within-the-show perilously teeter from "thematic" to "redundant." What with the hero-detectives and their missing-maybe-murdered family members and such. But, again, that's the point. Some of the in-show marketing for the show-within-the-show is... well, let's just say that it's probably not how an actual marketing department would market anything.
I don't know if Cult is going to work, if it can find an audience, or if it can keep that audience hooked without confusing the crap out of everyone. But I'm excited to find out, and I want to know more. And that's really all any TV pilot script can ask.