This article contains information that could be considered too revealing according to our spoiler policy. Proceed with caution. You can't unsee it!Reason The show's broadcast premiere isn't until a few days after this post's publication; we got a screener of the pilot, which has also been available on demand for a while.
Should You Put Your Real Life On Hold For The Arrangement?
E!'s new drama about an A-list actor finding his next wife via audition certainly has no relation to any real stars you've heard of. But should you watch it?
What Is This Thing?
Sometime actress/most-of-the-time waitress Megan Morrison gets the break of her life when she gets a callback for a co-starring film role opposite A-list movie superstar Kyle West. But when she nails it, the offer she gets isn't for the part: it's to be his new wife! Should Megan even be surprised by this, given that everyone in the world knows Kyle is the most famous acolyte of the shadowy Institute Of The Higher Mind?
When Is It On?
Sundays at 10 PM ET on E!, starting March 5, though the premiere is available on demand right now. (Warning: video autoplays.)
Why Was It Made Now?
Officially, Kyle is not based on Tom Cruise, Megan is not based on Katie Holmes, and the Institute is not based on the Church of Scientology. So the reason this show was made now definitely is NOT because the rumoured five-year gag order Holmes agreed to is expiring this year, because the two have nothing to do with each other. I guess E! just wanted to try its hand at another scripted drama and this premise seemed scandalous -- if also completely preposterous!
What's Its Pedigree?
Series creator Jonathan Abrahams is an alumnus of both awards bait like Mad Men, and TNT originals like Perception and Murder In The First. In front of the camera, there's Josh Henderson (Dallas) as Kyle; Michael Vartan (Alias) as Terrence, guru of The Institute Of The Higher Mind; and Autumn Reeser (The O.C.) as Leslie, Megan's fast-talking, enormously pregnant agent. Christine Evangelista has recently co-starred as one of Negan's wives on The Walking Dead, but is mostly a journeywoman like her alter ego here.
I would love to know whether this show's writers had lawyers actually watching their monitors over their shoulders while they were breaking each episode, because it really is REMARKABLY reminiscent of the Tom Cruise/Katie Holmes courtship and marriage stories we all remember from all those years ago. The audition rumour is one that has continued to dog Cruise years after his marriage to Holmes ended. Abrahams has stated that the Institute is an amalgam of several self-help philosophies and isn't intended as a fictionalized version of Scientology, but based solely on the premiere episode, the similarities between Terrence's preoccupation with keeping Kyle happy and his public image pristine are reminiscent of stories that have surrounded Scientology CEO David Miscavige and his prized Cruise. There's even an extended sequence in the premiere revolving around Kyle and his trademark motorcycle. I'm just saying I'd love to know exactly what conversations took place to change the very obvious source material enough to keep anyone involved in The Arrangement from getting sued.
So: on premise alone, I was probably always going to be interested in at least one episode of The Arrangement, regardless of how poorly it might have been executed. Fortunately for us all, it's executed well. Henderson captures the positivity and drive we've all seen Cruise evince in countless talk show interviews. But if Kyle were only empty grins, he wouldn't have sufficient appeal to convince Megan to join him on the spur-of-the-moment overnight trip to Mexico that acts as her real audition (although the fact that she's just found out her musician boyfriend cheated on her and got another woman pregnant means she's more emotionally raw than usual). Kyle is likable and fun, giving her enough of his backstory to keep her interested and accepting of everything she tells him (and if the reason he needs his management to arrange his marriages for him is that he's keeping A Secret about his sexuality, he's a good enough actor that his seduction of Megan at least starts in the usual way) (I'm saying they have sex).
The point is: you believe that if Kyle offered you a lot of money and the promise of career advancement to marry him in this weird way, you would at least strongly consider it, and also that Megan -- with her interesting choices at her acting audition, and by shamelessly busting out a Shakespearean rap performance next to Kyle's Mexican infinity pool -- that she would be the one who would stand out and impress him. That we learn, toward the end of the episode, that she's also keeping A Secret from Kyle about a relationship misadventure in her past only makes her more intriguing.
Megan is equipped with a couple of female friends who are not as sharply drawn as Kyle or Megan -- one steady with a serious job as a lawyer; the other wild and trampy -- but if they seem like predictable types, they also seem like they might either have more to do as their concerns about Kyle and the marriage and the Institute grow more grave. Speaking of the Institute: Vartan still has so much nice-guy appeal from his time on Alias that it's hard to buy him as a Miscavigean creep, at least in the first episode. But I'm hopeful that he'll be putting his forehead furrows to good use as the story goes on.
Given my fascination with cults in general and with Scientology/the specifics of Katie Holmes's self-extrication from same in particular, there's basically no way I'm ever missing an episode. If those areas are of interest to you as well, this is probably worth checking out!