If you’re in the business of grading TV shows, The Path is the very definition of a solid B. Created by Jessica Goldberg, Hulu’s original drama about a small Scientology-style cult and its increasingly fractured membership takes its intriguing premise and does exactly what’s needed to get it across, no more and no less. Led by Breaking Bad’s Aaron Paul, who’s a producer on the show as well, the cast is a who’s who of actors from other, mostly (but not always) better, prestige-TV projects. Michelle Monaghan (True Detective) and Hugh Dancy (Hannibal), Paul’s co-leads, are the most prominent of course; to them you can add Emma Greenwell (Shameless), Brian Stokes Mitchell (Mr. Robot), Rockmond Dunbar (Sons of Anarchy), Peter Friedman and Deirdre O’Connell (The Affair), Ali Ahn (Billions, a show that took a similar Peak TV Grab Bag approach to casting), and so on. All of them do good work; none of them do their best work. When you’re coming off all-time great shows like Paul and Dancy are, the difference is hard to ignore.
The scripts split their time fairly evenly between the plot, broadly involving the power struggles and loss of faith that stem from the cult’s L. Ron Hubbard-esque leader’s hushed-up illness and death, and intense but uncomplicated exploration of the characters’ conflicted feelings about their faith and their families. The story is involving, the writing adequate and rarely memorable as writing. The filmmaking is as neutral a view on the action as a seat in the mezzanine looking at a proscenium stage; its attempts at surrealism, whether in dream sequences or psychedelic-drug hallucinations, don’t linger or haunt. (This is especially glaring when Dancy is involved; every time he comes across some bog-standard symbolism, like an owl watching him in the woods, I can’t help but wonder if he recalls his time on Hannibal and thinks “that thing should be made of human tendons and its beak should gush blood.”) Its sole genuine innovation is an animated opening-credits sequence that entirely eschews the stately dark montage approach of pretty much every other prestige show on television — which is not to say it’s good, it looks like a commercial for a fibromyalgia medication, but at least it’s different. All told, The Path is an engaging way to spend your spare time, but you’re not likely to make like the cult members and reorganize your life around it.