Walking “The Path” with Jessica Goldberg

The creator of Hulu’s cult drama talks about the show’s genesis.
Film + TV
Walking “The Path” with Jessica Goldberg

The creator of Hulu’s cult drama talks about the show’s genesis.

Words: Jessica Jardine

images courtesy Hulu

March 31, 2016

Michelle Monaghan in “The Path” courtesy Hulu

Hulu’s original programming has gained an impressive foothold of late, particularly since its original comedy Casual was nominated for an Emmy this past year. But being nominated and nabbing the gold are worlds apart, which is why it makes sense the streaming service has pushed hard for the win with its latest offering, The Path.

The new ten-episode drama follows several members of a modern-day, cult-like religion called Meyerism as they struggle with the intersection of their faith and families. Outside of the zeitgeist-y nature of the show’s focus—Meyerism has considerable overlap with Scientology, though no one involved in the show will say as much—the creative team behind it is decidedly top tier: Executive Producer Jason Katims came from the universally acclaimed Friday Night Lights and Parenthood, the latter of which he created and showran until last year. Meanwhile, the show was created by former Parenthood writer Jessica Goldberg, who also serves as its head writer.


And those boldface credits practically pale in comparison to the high-wattage casting, making this show nearly impossible to ignore. True Detective’s Michelle Monaghan and Hannibal’s Hugh Dancy star alongside Emmy winner Aaron Paul in his first non-animated foray back to television since his star-making turn as Breaking Bad’s Jesse Pinkman.

In an interview just ahead of the show’s premiere, Goldberg talked about how starry casting and gold statuettes were actually the furthest thing from her mind when she was creating The Path. “Within a year, my father died and I got divorced,” she said. “I was having my own existential crisis and I remember walking around and thinking about Plato’s Cave from freshman philosophy class at NYU and feeling like my whole life [was] shattered. It sounds so bizarre to talk about but I thought, ‘I just wanna write something.’ I just shut the door and I wrote this weird pilot.”

“New York is such a historical breeding ground for these social utopian experiments… There’s so much history in that area of religious movements and séances.”

Behind that closed door, she tapped into what she was going through and how it rippled outward to the world. “At that time in my life, I certainly felt the absence of a community and of a system,” she said. “Especially if you’re a non-believer and someone dies, it’s very shocking and terrifying and there are no answers. I was looking toward faith as something that’s quite comforting. And then, just at a purely political/sociological level, I also think we’re being faced with extreme faith in the world in a way that’s important to talk about.”

Goldberg’s attraction to writing goes back to NYU and Juilliard, where she studied drama before going on to become an award-winning playwright. Like many of her peers in recent years, she eventually transitioned into screenplays and TV. “Almost all my playwriting friends are working in television,” she said. “I think it’s because it’s so character driven right now, especially the sort of cable TV that’s happening where stories aren’t as action driven. It feels like a very natural place for a playwright.”

Michelle Monaghan and Aaron Paul in "The Path"

Michelle Monaghan and Aaron Paul in “The Path”

That character-driven focus is on full display in The Path, as it tracks the stories of Eddie (Paul), his wife Sarah (Monaghan) and several other Meyerists, including fearless local leader Cal (Dancy). They operate within the grounds of a lush, cabin-like compound in upstate New York, where viewers watch their allegiance to the faith get tested by numerous external and internal forces.

Having grown up in the colorful and famously bohemian town of Woodstock, New York, Goldberg readily drew upon the many “seekers” she saw around her as a child and teenager. “New York is such a historical breeding ground for these social utopian experiments,” she said. “There’s so much history in that area of religious movements and séances and I’d always been interested in [it] for that reason. In the ’70s and ’80s we had the Rainbow Family and the Rajneesh—we called them “the Orange People” because they wore orange—and Bob Dylan’s church from when he became a Christian for a minute. I always found it very seductive, all these alternative seekers.” Briefly, she and Katims entertained the idea of setting the show in Southern California, where they live, but “it just felt like that’s a different seeker culture, the West Coast thing,” she said. “It felt like it belonged on the East Coast.”

“We ended up writing a bible for [Meyerism] because we wanted it to not feel like we were making it up as we went.”

Deciding to make a show about a fictional religion also means you have to create said religion, which Goldberg recalls as no simple task. “It was certainly daunting,” she said. “We ended up writing a bible for [Meyerism] because we wanted it to not feel like we were making it up as we went. We named all of the rungs of the ladder, thought of the mythology, and then just dealt with some basic tenets of most religions. How did it start? What is God? What happens when you die? What do you do about sin? We covered all the basics and took a lot from Eastern and Judeo-Christian religions; It’s mostly all from stuff that’s out there [that we] culled together.”

When dealing such an intense topic, it doesn’t hurt to have that elite cast on hand to realize the words on the page. For Goldberg, it was a dream come true to see the stars assembled. “Oh my god, I just feel so, so, so, so lucky,” she said. “The actors are incredible. We pursued Michelle first and then, when she was on board, really went after Aaron Paul and, of course, he was super reluctant to do TV. So that was hugely lucky. Finally came the Cal part, and it’s a very difficult part. We were even struggling with who to pursue because [we] needed someone who was charismatic and sexy and yet complicated and vulnerable. Then I got a call that Hannibal had just gotten canceled, and we all got very excited to go after [Dancy]. I don’t think you could get luckier with this cast. Their acting is unbelievable. I’m so amazed by them.”

And, of course, none of the cast is too hard on the eyes, either. “Yes, we have a very good-looking cult,” Goldberg says, with a laugh. FL