A show within a show, "Cult" (9 p.m., CW, TV-14) isn't so much a network drama as the idea for a drama, or maybe the marketing scheme for a drama. But given the slim pickings on the CW and other networks, that may be enough.
"Cult" begins with grainy documentary footage of alleged cult leader Billy Grimm (Robert Knepper) surrounded by willowy, brainwashed blondes. A minute later, the film stock changes and we see one of those blondes, now older, in search of a victim of Grimm's cult. Soon, the action dissolves, the cameras pull back and we're shown the set for the hit CW show "Cult." Then the cameras pull back further and we're shown a nightclub where avid fans are following "Cult" on a TV above the bar,
At this point, "Cult" establishes itself as a kaleidoscope of refracted narratives. And it gets even more confusing. One of the show's fans, Nate (James Pizzinato), is convinced that Grimm's cult is real and that its followers are after him. He shares this with his older brother Jeff (Matt Davis), a once-promising journalist with problems of his own. At first, Jeff dismisses Nate's fantasies as just another immature obsession. But then Nate vanishes, just as he predicted, leaving behind a bloody trail of evidence.
Jeff the journalist/sleuth springs into action and invades the "Cult" set. There he meets fetching production assistant Skye (Jessica Lucas), who shares the opinion that there's something creepy and potentially dangerous about the show's too-passionate fan base. He also meets Roger Reeves (Knepper), the actor who plays the evil Grimm. He seems like a nice guy.
It's about this time that "Cult" stops making much sense and begins to get too preposterous to take seriously. That said, it's more compelling than "The Following" and far less ridiculous than "Zero Hour" and "Touch."
Give "Cult" credit for its tremendously clever concept and consistently creepy atmosphere. The show is all but guaranteed to be remembered for the cryptic tagline, "These things just snap right off," uttered by all of Grimm's brainwashed victims right before they die. That's something you might blurt out tomorrow around the water cooler. If you dare.
---TV-themed DVDs available today include "Adventure Time: Fionna and Cake," 16 episodes from the cult cartoon.
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---Sutton doubts her mother on "The Lying Game" (9 p.m., ABC Family, TV-14).
---Media exposure on "The Mindy Project" (9:30 p.m., Fox, TV-14).
---"Frontline" (10 p.m., PBS) collaborates with the Hartford (Conn.) Courant newspaper to present "Rais ing Adam Lanza."
---Savino contends with a wild clientele on "Vegas" (10 p.m., CBS, TV-14).
---Julia and Tom welcome a fresh voice on "Smash" (10 p.m., NBC, TV-14).
---Megan returns to work as "Body of Proof" (10 p.m., ABC, TV-14) returns from the network deep freeze.
---"Real Sports With Bryant Gumbel" (10 p.m., HBO) profiles ultimate female fighter Ronda Rousey.
---Feeling trapped on "Justified" (10 p.m., FX, TV-MA).
Timothy Dalton is a brooding James Bond in 1987's "The Living Daylights" (8 p.m., Reelz).
---Vance grieves on "NCIS" (8 p.m., CBS, TV-PG).
---Tree hugging on "Rais ing Hope" (8 p.m., Fox, TV-14).
---The battle of the bands on "Hart of Dixie" (8 p.m., CW, TV-PG).
---Nick and Jess sulk on "New Girl" (8:30 p.m., Fox, r, TV-14).
---Lost in the woods on "NCIS: Los Angeles" (9 p.m., CBS, TV-14).
---Ryan's bad move on "Go On" (9 p.m., NBC, TV-PG).
---Parking lot nirvana on "New Girl" (9 p.m., Fox, TV-14).
---A canine crisis on "The New Normal" (9:30 p.m., NBC, TV-14).
---Andy Samberg, Josh Hopkins and Lisa Loeb appear on "Conan" (11 p.m., TBS).
---Chris Franjola and Jo Koy are booked on "Chelsea Lately" (11 p.m., E!).
---Michelle Williams, Chris O'Donnell and the cast of "Cinderella" on "Late Show With David Letter man" (11:35 p.m., CBS).
---Jay Leno welcomes Robin Wright and Bonnie Raitt on "The Tonight Show" (11:35 p.m., NBC).
---Anthony Edwards and Mike Piazza appear on "Jimmy Kimmel Live" (11:35 p.m., ABC).
---David Spade, Michael Emerson and Atlas Genius visit "Late Night With Jimmy Fallon" (12:35 a.m., NBC).
---Craig Ferguson hosts Jon Cryer and Melissa Ben-
oist on "The Late Late Show" (12:35 a.m., CBS).
Kevin McDonough can be reached at kevin.tvguy@g mail.com.