Even before its launch, “The Path” was drawing attention as the first hourlong scripted original series for the streaming service Hulu.
But in the buildup of the show, about a faith-based group that resembles a cult, creator Jessica Goldberg had other concerns. She was worried that some prospective viewers would approach the drama thinking it was about an existing religion — namely, Scientology. She recognizes that there are some parallels between the controversial group and the fictional organization in her show, the Meyerist Movement.
But Goldberg contends that despite those similarities, Scientology has no 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’s death and the recent fallout of her marriage.
“I had my own faith crisis,” Goldberg said recently in a dimly lighted bar at a Pasadena hotel during a promotional stop for the series that launched this week. “I got the rug pulled out from under me.”
With a starry cast including Aaron Paul, Hugh Dancy and Michelle Monaghan, “The Path” explores the lure of a faith that may look to outsiders like a cult. In the Meyerist Movement, followers practice the teachings of founder and former Army psychiatrist Dr. Stephen Meyer.
Paul, in his first TV role since his Emmy-winning stint on “Breaking Bad,” stars as Eddie, a convert who is having serious doubts about the movement. That uncertainty is causing tension with his wife, Sarah, played by Monaghan, who was born into the faith and serves as an important figure in it. Dancy plays Cal, the charismatic and ambitious unofficial leader of the Meyerists in upstate New York.
“Maybe people will make that assumption (that the show is about Scientology) just when they read the description,” said Goldberg, who was seated alongside fellow executive producer Jason Katims (“Friday Night Lights,” “Parenthood”). “But once you watch it, you realize it’s not that.”
Misconceptions aside, it’s an attention-getting move and a milestone for Hulu to program the series as its first drama — the service is attempting to fortify its slate of original content, which already includes the comedy “Casual” and the limited sci-fi series “11/22/63.” Other shows, such as HBO’s “Big Love” and NBC’s “Aquarius,” have used fringe faith movements as backdrops or launching points, but “The Path” puts the controversial faith aspect front and center.
“ ‘The Path’ is really singularly unique,” said Hulu’s head of content, Craig Erwich. “It’s extremely provocative in subject matter and themes. 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,” on which she was a producer and writer. She said she was suffering a personal crisis much like that of Paul’s character.
“I just found myself like Eddie,” she said. “I was this person walking through my life going, ‘None of this is real.’ Writing the pilot proved to be cathartic.”