Los Angeles Times
Even before itslaunch, “The Path” was drawing attention as the first hourlongscripted original series for the streaming service Hulu.
But in the buildup of the show, about a faith-based group that resemblesa cult, creator Jessica Goldberg had other concerns, worried that someprospective viewers would approach the drama thinking it was about an existingreligion — namely, Scientology. She recognizes that there are some parallelsbetween the controversial group and the fictional organization in her show, theMeyerist Movement.
But Goldberg contends that despite those similarities, Scientology hasno connection to the story she wants to tell. That vision, Goldberg maintains,is much more personal and emotional, tied to her devastation over her father’sdeath and the recent fallout of her marriage.
“I had my own faith crisis,” Goldberg said recently in a dimlylighted bar at a Pasadena hotel during a promotional stop for the series thatlaunches Wednesday. “I got the rug pulled out from under me.”
With a starry cast including Aaron Paul, Hugh Dancy and MichelleMonaghan, “The Path” explores the lure of a faith that may look tooutsiders like a cult. In the Meyerist Movement, followers practice theteachings of founder and former Army psychiatrist Dr. Stephen Meyer.
Central tenets are transparency and honesty as a means of overcomingnegativity and achieving enlightenment. Followers must go through stages ofadvancement known as the Ladder and follow the force known as the Light. Andthe key spiritual symbol of the movement — on display everywhere (includingwater bottles) — is an all-seeing eye in which the lashes resemble a sunburst.Should a member question the movement’s teachings, he or she is deemed a”denier” and contact with Meyerist friends or family is stopped.
Paul, in his first TV role since his Emmy-winning stint on”Breaking Bad,” stars as Eddie, a convert who is having seriousdoubts about the movement. That uncertainty is causing tension with his wife,Sarah, played by Monaghan, who was born into the faith and serves as animportant figure in it. Dancy plays Cal, the charismatic and ambitiousunofficial leader of the Meyerists in upstate New York.
“Maybe people will make that assumption [that the show is aboutScientology] just when they read the description,” said Goldberg, who wasseated alongside fellow executive producer Jason Katims (“Friday NightLights,” “Parenthood”). “But once you watch it, you realizeit’s not that.”
Misconceptions aside, it’s an attention-getting move and a milestone forHulu to program the series as its first drama — the service is attempting tofortify its slate of original content, which already includes the comedy”Casual” and the limited sci-fi series “11/22/63.” Othershows, such as HBO’s “Big Love” and NBC’s “Aquarius,” haveused fringe faith movements as backdrops or launching points, but “ThePath” puts the controversial faith aspect front and center.
“‘The Path’ is really singularly unique,” said Hulu’s head ofcontent, Craig Erwich. “It’s extremely provocative in subject matter andthemes. It’s a topic that I think people are fascinated with, which is faith,and the extremes people go to for their faith.”
Goldberg wrote the pilot during a hiatus from the NBC drama”Parenthood,” in which she was a producer and writer. She said shewas suffering a personal crisis much like that of Paul’s character.
“I just found myself like Eddie,” she said. “I was thisperson walking through my life going, ‘None of this is real.’ Writing the pilotproved to be cathartic.”
Still, Katims knew the show wouldn’t be the easiest sell to networks.
“I found out the idea of doing a show about a cult religion —people were not that into it,” he said. “But what I kept saying aboutit — and I really truly believe this — is that you can’t dismiss this as a cultshow because, yes, there is this religion or this movement that could bedefined as a cult, but that is not what the show, to me, was ever about. It wasabout these people who lived in this world and this subculture and werestruggling like anybody struggles. And they really, truly believed in thismovement, even though they might have their own demons or complexities.”
Goldberg and Katims ultimately bypassed networks and showed a specscript to Hulu, which ordered 10 episodes.
Armed with her initial thoughts about how she wanted to shape thefictional religion, Goldberg met with the show’s writers and drafted areference guide that detailed specific tenets, including key phrases andmythology. “There’s a lot of Eastern religion in there, Buddhism, Judaism.We took from a lot of places. It’s a little hippiesh too.”
Paul, who prior to his role on “Breaking Bad” had an arc on”Big Love,” grew up in a religious household (his father was aBaptist minister) and said he drew from that in trying to get a better grasp onEddie.
“I think all of us can relate to it one way or another, whetherit’s a religion or a spiritual movement,” said Paul, who also serves as aproducer on the series. “I’m always in the state of wonder. All I do knowis that we’re sitting on a planet that is spinning out of control in the middleof nowhere and I’m constantly looking up in the sky wondering what is all ofthis. I know I’m never going to know. That’s just what I believe. But a lot ofpeople believe they do have the answer.”
Dancy said the show has him reevaluating how he perceives obscurereligions.
“What I’ve realized is that, first of all, something is only a cultin the eye of the beholder,” Dancy said. “Your cult is my movement.There are more people, perhaps, than I would stop to think that are walkingaround with a sense of spiritual void, with a feeling that they lack purpose,looking for spiritual guidance. And the people that get drawn into them are nodifferent than you or me. We all have that thing in us where if the rightperson at the right time comes along and says, ‘You’re broken and I can healyou,’ you’d respond.”
The actors said they were constantly calling or emailing Goldberg to geta grasp on the faith. Monaghan recalled a moment when she called Goldberg toask whether her character would ever use foul language. The answer: No.
“Little things like that, I thought, spoke a lot to what thismovement values,” Monaghan said.
Dancy said he’s most interested in seeing how the movement Goldberg hascreated will endure.
“What I’mmost fascinated by, and what we only begin to get into in the first season, isthe moment every small religious movement faces, which is: Can they surviveinto a second generation? 99.9% don’t. But first we have to see if the showsurvives to get us there.”
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