Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Pilot Talk 2017: Feud and The Arrangement

Every TV season, networks bring out a new crop of shows, in hopes that they'll be the next big hit.  Pilot Talk is devoted to figuring out whether these shows are worth your time based on the first episode.

The Arrangement (E!, Sundays at 10:00 PM)
The Arrangement is not based on the story of Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes.  If any lawyers come knocking on E!'s door, that is what the network will tell them.  The show follows Megan (Christine Evangelista), a budding actor who is offered the opportunity to be in an arranged relationship with Kyle West (Josh Henderson), one of the biggest actors in Hollywood.  Kyle is a prominent member of a self-help organization called The Institute of the Higher Mind, and this relationship is proposed in order to maintain his own reputation as well as the organization's.  This proposal comes with a strict contract, one that includes details about how the relationship will progress, when the couple will have kids, and how Megan must conduct herself publicly and privately.

Okay, so The Arrangement is definitely based on the story of Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes.  However, the pilot is at its most interesting when it's deviating away from those influences.  In personality and career status, Megan bears little similarity to Katie Holmes, but from the outset she's a pretty interesting character in her own right.  She's shown as a person who is charming and has a sense of humor about her struggling acting career, and when it's time for Kyle to point out that she's different from the rest of the actresses they're vetting to be his next wife, you can sort of believe him.  It helps that Christine Evangelista is the real deal, giving a bright and magnetic performance that shows she was being absolutely wasted on The Walking Dead.

Where it falters is where it explores the Hollywood fantasy life that's similar to what Tom Cruise must lead and the Institute of the Higher Mind, which is clearly modeled after Scientology.  I get why both of these elements are necessary -- the Hollywood fantasy aspect helps us understand why this offer would appeal to people and the Institute of the Higher Mind will be the central driver of conflict moving forward -- but neither is really compelling.  The glitzy celebrity fluff just feels like the rest of the stuff E! peddles, and it's not like Josh Henderson has the screen presence of a Tom Cruise.  And the Institute of the Higher Mind material feels like such a ripoff of Scientology that it's not all that interesting.

The Arrangement is not quite there enough to be weekly watching yet -- it needs to find a better balance of reality and trash.  Still, Evangelista has got major star power and they tease out an enough interesting mystery about her character that it could end up being a solid show in the future.
Grade: B-

Feud (FX, Sundays at 10:00 PM)
Who would have thought that Ryan Murphy, the guy behind Nip/Tuck and Glee, would eventually become the most powerful TV producer in the industry?  He seems to churn out a new anthology series every week now, and the latest one we've gotten is Feud, which will stay true to its title and focus on famous conflicts.  Season one finds him working in his wheelhouse, covering the rivalry between actors Joan Crawford and Bette Davis, which culminated during the production of the 1962 film Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?  Like all Murphy affairs, one of the biggest joys is the cast he puts together.  This might be his impressive ensemble yet.  Alfred Molina!  Stanley Tucci!  Jessica Lange!  Susan Surandon!

The series clearly has a love and reverence for the golden age of Hollywood. Look no further than the incredible Saul Bass-inspired credits that start off each episode for evidence of that admiration.  People like myself who have less knowledge and the era in general will discover alot of enlightening information, but I wonder how far that interest goes.  Can this show do more than just appeal to people who have affection for this milieu?  The pilot leaves that question up in the air.  Feud promises to be about more than just the feud between Crawford and Davis but as of right now it isn't really.  And the rivalry isn't quite as interesting as the show would like to think.

Of the main duo, Joan Crawford is the one who gets more shading.  She's painted as someone who is a little vain and just wants to be respected by this woman who secretly (but clearly) admires.  Couple that with her issues with aging and Lange's committed performance, and it makes for a rich and compelling character.  Other Ryan Murphy shows tend to have a tough time finding the balance between camp and prestige, but this one has a good mix.  It's equal parts cheesy and catty.  If Feud can keep that balance, and flesh out more of the characters the way it has with Crawford, then it could live up to FX's reputation for high-quality content.
Grade: B

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