Let’s face it: cults make for great TV. Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, The Following, The Leftovers, True Detective (Season One)—organizations on the fringes of society are riding a recent wave of popularity on TV. The next sect to invade the small screen is the mysterious Meyerists of Hulu’s The Path, starring Hugh Dancy, Aaron Paul and Michelle Monaghan. Created by Jessica Goldberg, the original series follows a family at the center of the movement as they struggle with faith, power and each other.
Paste caught up with some of The Path’s cast and creatives, to talk about the new series, cults and the newly minted Meyerist Movement. We’ve only previewed the first couple of episodes, but we’re convinced that Hulu’s latest drama could develop more than just a cult following. Here are a few reasons why The Path is worth a look.
Aaron Paul returns to live-action TV after his indelible role as Jesse Pinkman on Breaking Bad. (He also voices Todd Chavez on the animated BoJack Horseman.) On The Path, Paul plays Eddie Lane, a Meyerist adherent who’s going through a crisis of faith after discovering something disturbing while on a spiritual retreat. When he returns home, his wife Sarah (Michelle Monaghan from the first season of True Detective), one of the Movement’s strongest supporters, senses her husband’s troubles and believes he’s “transgressed.” Hugh Dancy, fresh from playing Will Graham on Hannibal, is the Meyerists’ charismatic leader, Cal Roberts. Cal was once involved with Sarah—in the biblical sense—but she chose Eddie instead.
There’s a real depth to these characters and their intertwined storylines, and Dancy said that this was one of the many things that drew him to The Path. “It was the quality of the writing, but more to the point, that [the producers] took the belief of these characters seriously,” Dancy said. “I love that about the show. You are not asked as a viewer to look at these people and go ‘Oh wow, they’re in a weird cult.’ You’re actually asked to empathize with them and understand what they’re looking for in their lives, because it makes them whole. I thought that was very interesting… and humane.”
Fans of Friday Night Lights and Parenthood should be pleased that The Path’s executive producers were instrumental in both of those beloved shows. Creator and executive producer Jessica Goldberg, a Juilliard-trained playwright, served as a writer-producer on Parenthood, which was created by Katims. He also served as executive producer and showrunner for Friday Night Lights.
When we asked Katims why audiences are generally intrigued by cults, he responded, “That questioning of your faith and that feeling of wanting to belong, be part of a community—these are all things that we want and are fascinated by,” Katims said. “One of the most enjoyable parts of doing this show was really creating this world, and it started with Jess Goldberg. We collectively created our own religion, in a way. It was important to us that it was different from anything else that really exists because we wanted it to live on its own and wanted people to envelop themselves in this world.”
As a side note, Katims explained that they changed the show’s original name, The Way, to The Path in order to avoid any confusion with an existing religion with the same name.
We heard in the pressline during the premiere that Goldberg had written a “bible” for the show. While, in TV terms, this usually means the master reference document that contains the show’s theme and concept, characters backgrounds and biographies, full episodes and sketches for future ones, etc., in the case of The Path, they mean “bible,” as in Adam, Eve, Moses, David, God, Jesus.
Goldberg crafted The Meyerist Movement’s doctrine and a “Ladder of Enlightenment”—levels of being that Meyerists aspire to climb, rung by rung. The Movement’s levels are as follows: 0. Receptive, 1. Initiate, 2. Servant, 3. Student, 4. Scholar, 5. Shepherd, 6. Explorer, 7. Reflective, 8. Mender, 9. Augur and 10. Protector.
Monaghan explained some of the religion’s basic principles. “Some of the tenets of Meyerism [are] to care for your family, obviously, and to care for the environment. They are very eco-conscious. They want to do a lot for humanity. They really want to spread good all over the world, and help people in near and faraway lands, help people in their backyard. They want to live with complete transparency, which means to really speak with honesty and not to carry grudges—to unburden.” She added, “You know that’s something I can definitely get behind is open and great communication… we actually [on set] say every now and then, ‘I’d like to unburden.’” For Meyerists, “unburdening” is the process of admitting negative emotions and impulses, and it’s one of its central tenets.
The series combines drama with elements of mysticism, mystery and romance. And because people aren’t perfect, of course there will be sin and conflict among the characters. “On paper, [Meyerist doctrine] is all pretty good,” said Dancy. “Apart from the bit about everyone else burning in hell… So they’ve created a system encouraging people to bring whatever they’re carrying around in their bag, you know, bring it out into the open. What’s wrong with that? You’d think nothing,” he said with a laugh.
“I think it’s the people behind the movement that really are the shady characters,” added Paul, who also serves as of the series’ executive producers. “What they’re preaching isn’t a bad thing. It’s really what a lot a lot of religions are preaching: ‘Be a good person, treat others like you would like to be treated and live in transparency and be honest. And there’s nothing wrong with that. But it’s the shady things that go on behind closed doors, [that’s] what’s scary.”
The first two episodes of The Path will launch on Hulu on March 30, with the rest of the season released on a weekly basis.
Christine N. Ziemba is a Los Angeles-based freelance pop culture writer and regular contributor to Paste. You can follow her on Twitter.