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Not completely taken with Hulu's The Path


Aaron Paul is tightly wound anew in The Path. Hulu photo

Premiering: Begins streaming with weekly episodes on Hulu, starting Wednesday, March 30th
Starring: Aaron Paul, Michelle Monaghan, Hugh Dancy, Rockmond Dunbar, Sarah Jones, Kyle Allen, Amy Forsythe, Kathleen Turner, Minka Kelly
Produced by: Jason Katims, Michelle Lee, Jessica Goldberg

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Aaron Paul and intense inner turmoil seemingly have become inseparable.

Not necessarily for the actor, but with the role that made him famous and now his followup act.

Few TV characters have suffered or endured more than Paul’s Jesse Pinkman on Breaking Bad. In Hulu’s The Path, which begins streaming on Wednesday, March 30th with one episode per week, he plays the increasingly haunted Eddie Cleary. Married into a family that has fully embraced the Scientology-like Meyerist Movement, Eddie and his 15-year-old son Hawk (Kyle Allen) are starting to stray from the herd. Worse yet for Eddie, he has unexplained chilling visions that further shake his faith in “The Ladder” and its multiple rungs to “The Garden.”

Hulu made all 10 Season One episodes available for review. Watching them became something of an endurance contest. The Path can be gripping but also tedious and sometimes redundant. Its theme music keeps swelling more than necessary, with key characters tending to lessen rather than build interest in what the devil is going to be happening to them.

The principal devious disciple of a secretly near-death L. Ron Hubbard-ish founder is young Cal Roberts (Hugh Dancy). Bred by horrible parents, including an alcoholic mother played by a virtually unrecognizable Kathleen Turner, Cal is both battling his demons and consolidating his power as the self-anointed heir apparent.

Home base is verdant upstate New York, where the Meyerist compound is nestled in picturesque beauty via frequent shots from on high. The vegetarian followers of the Movement build their flock by taking in desperate people at their ropes’ ends. So when a tornado devastates nearby dirt-poor Ringe, New Hampshire, the Meyerists are quick to pounce. One of the new recruits is drug addict Mary Cox (Emma Greenwell), a blonde beauty whose father “started selling me to his friends” when she was 11. Cal of course finds her to his liking.

Eddie’s wife, Sarah (Michelle Monaghan), is a true-blue Meyerist whose parents brought her into the fold. Ma and pot-smoking Pa are unbending in their conviction that non-believers are outcasts. And poor Eddie has been susceptible to their dictums. He’s been looking for something to hold onto ever since his only brother hung himself.

During 6R training in Peru, however, Eddie somehow had a vision that made him wonder what’s really up. His visions are woven throughout The Path, not that they make any firmly grounded sense in terms of what viewers are expected to swallow.

Episode 3, which spotlights Turner as the belittling Brenda Thomas, hits a high point in terms of building viewer interest. But from this perspective, The Path then begins to slowly peter out. Some episodes play considerably better than others, particularly an eighth hour in which Eddie and Hawk bond emotionally while taking a Meyerist-mandated marathon trek known as “The Walk.” Overall, though, the pulse of the series grows fainter, with a bounce-around, open-ended Season One finale coming closer to a turnoff than an irresistible invitation to return.

A few more familiar TV faces are sprinkled in. Rockmond Dunbar from Fox’s Prison Break plays a detective named Abe Gaines. He more or less goes undercover to investigative whether a deceased Meyerist follower in fact might have been murdered. But the sense of urgency here is akin to a three-year-old attacking a plate of cauliflower.

Minka Kelly, who first broke through on NBC’s Friday Night Lights, drops in for a couple of episodes as follower Miranda Frank, who’s suspected of having an affair with the constantly put-upon Eddie. But the character doesn’t really resonate and is soon discarded. Co-executive producer Jason Katims, one of FNL’s principal maestros, worked with Kelly on both that series and NBC’s Parenthood. He may have felt bad for the actress after her subsequent struggles to regain traction as a co-star in two series flops, ABCs Charlie’s Angels and Fox’s Almost Human.

Extremely vigilant viewers might want to stick with the closing credits, which include Keir Dullea of 2001: A Space Odyssey fame. Check out who he’s playing. Otherwise there’s just no way you’ll make that deduction.

The Path mostly is notable for Aaron Paul giving his all in the service of a role that finds him on familiar shaky ground in a series with too many ruts. It’s another nice original series try by Hulu in its efforts to someday play in the same league as fellow streamers Netflix and Amazon Prime. But as with Hulu’s ongoing 11.22.63, there’s just not enough in the tank to make the engine really hum.

GRADE: B-minus

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