The Arrangement Signals the Return of Nighttime Trash TV

With ABC and NBC focusing of late (like maybe the past twentyish years) on the notion of “quality” TV (you know Jane the Virgin, The Blacklist), it seems as though the over-the-top drama of Hill Street Blues on NBC or Dynasty on ABC in the 80s were doomed to be relegated to a genre solely designed for parody by the likes of The Spoils of Babylon. But now, there is E!’s The Arrangement, a tale not so loosely based on Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes.

Except, instead of the word “Scientology” being bandied, it’s the Institute of the Higher Mind (far more ominous, to be honest). At the forefront of celebrity representation for it is Kyle West (Josh Henderson), plucked from L.A. obscurity at eighteen by his “mentor,” Terence Anderson (Michael Vartan). It all sounds a lot like that story about Cruise getting off the bus in L.A. and being taken in by the Church of Scientology, ultimately worshipping the leader of the church, David Miscavige.

Aspiring actress–isn’t everyone in Hollywood?–Megan Morrison (Christine Evangelista) couldn’t feel more on the outside looking in of the world she yearns to be a part of, instead spending her days waitressing in between trying her best to get her agent to finagle her a legitimate audition. She does manage to do just this upon getting her friend and fellow co-worker, Hope (Katharine Isabelle), to cover her shift while she goes to try out for the co-starring role in the next Kyle West movie.

Based on her treatment at the audition, however, Megan doesn’t exactly feel all that confident about landing the role–especially after responding in a too contrived manner to the “three imperatives” they ask her (a series of random questions that only Kyle is impressed by–but not Terence or Deann [Lexa Doig], his wife).

Still, whatever Kyle wants, Kyle gets–and his interest in Megan couldn’t come at a more fortuitous time for her; she’s been down on her luck for so long and, well, being twenty-five in Hollywood and not yet famous is tantamount to being ancient.

In spite of the uncanny similarities to the Cruise/Holmes saga, the executive producer of the show, Jonathan Abrahams, has insisted, “There were a lot of inspirations for me, I’ve had experiences second- and third-hand in self-help organizations. There are many of them. Hollywood is such an aspirational town. These self-help organizations are about aspiring to a higher way of living–having more success in your profession and having more success in your relationships. There’s a promise to it. Come join our project and spend X amount of dollars for a weekend intensive and we can change your life.” But the man doth protest too much, as the parallels to the Cruise/Holmes alliance are just a bit on the nose.

Of course, Holmes never had any nude photos of her leaked nor was she a complete nobody at the time of meeting Cruise. In this regard, Abrahams has made just enough changes to placate any potential lawsuits. And yes, the ex-fianceé that left West at the altar, Lisbeth (Ashley Grace), rather smacks of Nicole Kidman. Warning Megan that she’ll soon see who Kyle West really is while they’re at the Venice Film Festival (incidentally, Cruise and Holmes’ first date was in Italy), Megan can’t help but feel the crushing pressure of Terence’s influence over Kyle at every turn.

The tagline “Never trust a Hollywood ending” is replete with the mystery indicative of the show, which has provided a slow build of intrigue not really seen since the WB heyday of Gossip Girl (and yes, the WB was the last great network for trash TV, including Katie Holmes’ own Dawson’s Creek). The question is, will modern audiences be able to withstand the triteness in the long-term, or is this a show doomed to go the way of Cruise and Holmes’ marriage?