'Cult,' 9 p.m. Tuesdays on the CW beginning tonight (Feb. 19)
One and a half stars (out of four)
It's official. TV has gone nuts. On the heels of ABC's "Zero Hour," a wildly far-fetched thriller about Nazis and clocks and stuff, comes the CW's "Cult," in which a TV show called "Cult" spawns its own crackpot cult.
With me? You won't be for long as I try to diagram this plot.
Jeff Sifton (Matt Davis) is a newspaper reporter starting over in Los Angeles after losing his job. (Well, at least that rings true.) Then his brother, Nate (James Pizzinato), disappears. Nate was a big fan of a CW show called "Cult," about a charismatic cult leader, and had become convinced the cult was out to get him.
What can Jeff do but investigate? Helping him out is Skye (Jessica Lucas), an assistant on the show who feels vaguely uncomfortable about what's going on.
Robert Knepper plays actor Roger Reeves, who stars (in the show within the show) as cult leader Billy Grimm. (Don't be confused; Grimm is not "a" Grimm, as on "Grimm.")
Grimm is an iron-fisted shepherd for his flock, members of which aren't allowed to stray. But his thrall has extended beyond the small screen and into the real world, or at least the virtual real world, with cult followers of "Cult" (the show within the show "Cult") blindly devoting themselves to him.
At an underground cafe lit by the blue glow of laptops, the zealots analyze the show endlessly, looking for messages, eager to do Grimm's will even if it means murder, or suicide. Everyone keeps saying, ominously and opaquely: "These things just snap right off." (Yes, that's not only an actual quote; it's the show's catchphrase.)
As he was as T-Bag on "Prison Break," Knepper is wonderfully creepy. But that's the last of the good news.
From Rockne S. O'Bannon ("Farscape," "Alien Nation"), "Cult" is too complicated for its own good, and not satisfying enough to make it worth figuring out, especially since so many shows with convoluted premises have short lifespans. ("Do No Harm," anyone?)
For now, "The Following" is flourishing on Fox. If a killer cult and its crazed followers intrigue you, try that one instead.