E! should write Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes a check. Who would watch a show about an arranged marriage between Hollywood actors if they didn’t think of Cruise and Holmes right away? As much as The Arrangement‘s cast and filmmakers deny any connection to the famous Scientologist, the comparison’s inevitable — and without them, this soapy drama about an ingenue entering a contract marriage with a Hollywood star who happens to be involved in a Scientology-like organization would seem too sensational.
Still, The Arrangement doesn’t work only because of its real-life parallels assumed by the audience or otherwise. The pilot strikes a balance between the silly — a paparazzi chase on their first date! — and the sincere. Doe-eyed Megan (Christine Evangelista) struggles to make it in La La Land, but her struggle has more to do with her own doubt than it has to do with the fact that she has to smile at rude customers day in and day out. Megan may not have impressed the casting directors of an HBO pilot she was gunning for, but Evangelista certainly makes an impression. She plays a muted desperation that makes her ultimate decision to accept the proposal believable — even if it requires a push from her manager Leslie (Autumn Reeser).
Hunky Kyle West (Josh Henderson), meanwhile, has less to do in the first hour than Megan does, but there’s something sinister enough lurking behind his eyes to draw you in. When he flies her off to Mexico to visit the island he just bought, he’s both charming and disarming, winning her over with his lavish lifestyle, but also putting her off with his openness so soon. We know he’s not exactly who he seems: His best friend Terence (Michael Vartan) runs the Institute of the Higher Mind, and he espouses mantras about the “three imperatives” and the gift of experience with an earnest creepiness Kyle trusts completely.
One episode is not enough to judge the entire series on, but the pilot offers a promising start at a deeper, more delectable drama underneath the glitz and the glam. Kyle’s perks both stun Megan and skewer Hollywood culture, while Megan proves she’s at least willing to be a match for the Institute of the Higher Mind. More importantly, both appear head over heels in love, but they also clearly don’t know exactly what they’re doing or who’s pulling the strings. On second thought, maybe they’re not TomKat’s carbon copy after all. B+
The Arrangement premieres on E! Sunday at 10 p.m. ET.