We’ve compiled a list of nine of the best TV shows about cults, so couch detectives everywhere can add a new phenom to their dossiers of human behaviour to study.
So many of us escaped the realities of lockdown-life by exploring the light-hearted, made-up worlds of TV through shows such as Bridgerton and Schitt’s Creek. But, if you’re ready for your trip into TV-land to take a darker route, and you’ve already watched all the true crime streaming services have to offer, it may be time for you to explore the weird world of cults.
Couch detectives who like to Wiki while they watch are in for a treat with our pick of shows that detail the ins-and-outs of sects that exist on the periphery of society. Although some, like Wild Wild Country, are documentaries detailing real events and include interviews with the survivors, others such as Nine Perfect Strangers are fictional but feature character-actors whose presence always spells major drama ahead – we’re looking at you, Michael Shannon.
Whether you fancy the cautionary tales of the former or the safe escapism of the latter, you’re bound to find one of the following shows about cults a compelling watch.
Three years after the disappearance of 2% of the world’s population in an event called the “sudden departure”, the residents of Mapleton, New York are contending with the new normal.
A cast including Liv Tyler (Armageddon), Justin Theroux (The Girl On The Train) and Regina King (Watchmen) play characters mourning the loss of loved ones, not just to the disappearance, but also to the growing number of religious cults preying on their trauma. The three-season series is based on Tom Perrotta’s 2011 novel of the same name.
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Nine Perfect Strangers
This Amazon Prime series boasts an impressive ensemble cast including Nicole Kidman (Big Little Lies), Melissa McCarthy (Bridesmaids) and Regina Hall (The Hate U Give) so of course there’s some high-octane drama in store.
Adapted from Liane Moriarty’s bestselling 2018 novel of the same name, the show follows nine strangers who visit an exclusive 10-day wellness sanctuary. Despite each heading to the retreat to gently excise their inner-demons, the healing mindful activities quickly take a turn for the macabre – forget facials and foraging, think forced imprisonment and digging your own grave.
In 1993 several intelligence and security agencies descended upon the Texan town of Waco following reports of a religious faction stockpiling weapons. This six-episode miniseries is a retelling of the resulting 51-day siege as well as the events that led up to and followed it.
Michael Shannon (Nine Perfect Strangers, Boardwalk Empire), Andrea Riseborough (Brighton Rock) and John Leguizamo (Romeo and Juliet) are just a few of the heavy-hitters that make up the main cast.
In each season of this series, detective Harry Ambrose – played by Bill Pullman (Halston, While You Were Sleeping) – is called upon to solve a new case in upstate New York. Season two opens with a double murder that leads him to a cult masquerading as a calm commune of free-minded people.
If you’ve seen any of the other seasons of The Sinner you’ll know that even the most straightforward of Ambrose’s cases are destined to take a sinister turn, and it’s no different with this one. You can stream season two now on Netflix.
If you didn’t catch Orphan Black during its original run between 2013 and 2017, you’re in for a treat.
The sci-fi thriller opens with Sarah Manning – a former foster child – witnessing the murder of a woman who looks exactly like her. Is the deceased woman her twin or the result of some spooky cult conspiracy? The mystery unfolds over five seasons that you can binge right now on BritBox.
Wild Wild Country
In the early 1980s a utopian commune sprung up in the Oregon desert. At the centre of it was Osho, a controversial guru who inspired total devotion from his followers.
Over the course of six episodes, the documentary recounts the drama, power-plays and political fallout that followed the guru’s ambitious plan to build a self-sustaining city from the ground. Stream the documentary on Netflix to see first-hand accounts and archival footage from the time.
Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt
This Netflix comedy has given us endless memes and moments of heartfelt hilarity. But, Kimmy’s sweet journey of self-discovery in the big city is precipitated by her harrowing history as a woman held captive by a religious zealot.
The series is the brainchild of actor and comedian Tina Fey (30 Rock, Mean Girls), so it puts a funny spin on what would otherwise be an emotionally taxing watch.
Yvonne Strahovski’s no stranger to playing difficult characters, as evidenced by her turn as Serena Waterford in The Handmaid’s Tale. In Stateless, she plays Sophie Werner, an Australian citizen stuck bizarrely in one of the country’s notorious immigrant detention camps.
The show explores how several “stateless” characters each end up detained in such a brutal place. Although the reason for Sophie’s detention isn’t immediately apparent, her story slowly unfolds to include glimpses into her past as the follower of a charismatic religious leader.
The ensemble cast includes Asher Keddie (Nine Perfect Strangers) and Cate Blanchett (Carol) – who also serves as a producer.
The MCU’s blockbuster releases are so spellbinding, it’s easy to forget that the comic book universe comprises more than just The Avengers and the Guardians Of The Galaxy.
In Marvel’s Runaways we find teen superheroes in-the-making, whose main priority is defeating Pride, a criminal organisation run by their parents. On their quest to right the wrongs of their evil parents, the Runaways come into contact with the mysterious and cultish church of Gibborim – a Los Angeles-based religious faction who may have a deeper connection to one of the teens.
Image: courtesy of Amazon Prime/ Hulu