Beyond the usual producers and editors, it clearly required a legion of lawyers to get “Leah Remini: Scientology and the Aftermath” on the air. That explains the disclaimer that runs during each act break of this A&E series, in which the former “King of Queens” star details abusive practices with help from other former church members.
Through the years, the bizarre excesses of Scientology – the sort-of religion, kind-of cult created by author L. Ron Hubbard, and populated by several Hollywood luminaries – have been well documented. That includes Alex Gibney’s 2015 documentary “Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief,” which, like most criticisms of the church, yielded fierce and orchestrated blowback.
Nevertheless, Remini comes to this process with a good deal of standing, having been an outspoken proponent of Scientology (there’s video in the show of her singing its praises) before a public falling out in 2013. Since then, she has expressed regret and a commitment to discredit, as she puts it, “A church that I promoted, defended and believed in most of my life.”
In the premiere, Remini and her fellow producers feature strong indictments from other past Scientologists, Mike Rinder and Amy Scobee. They also detail how the church has consciously leveraged celebrities – most prominent among them Tom Cruise, but also John Travolta and others – to “sell” its product, in the same way corporations use high-profile endorsements as a marketing tool.
For those who have studied Scientology, very little discussed here will come as a shock. That includes Scobee’s tale about being a victim of statutory rape as a teenager – while church officials looked the other way – and allegations of physical abuse against members by Scientology’s leader, David Miscavige.
“The Church disputes many of the statements made by those appearing in this program,” reads the disclaimer that repeatedly appears on the screen, directing viewers to a website to see its full rebuttals after trying to quash the show entirely.
Scientology’s attempts to undermine its critics, however, run into a public-relations buzz saw in Remini – who was brought into the church by her mother as a teenager – and those she has assembled, who deliver pretty credible-sounding testimony.
The show represents a step up in class for A&E, which has been provocative in its recent unscripted programming choices – such as the undercover prison exercise “60 Days In” – in a way that mostly smacks of stooping to conquer.
Addressing her past with the conviction of a one-time true believer, Remini discusses Scientology’s shadowy hierarchy and the promise that it will allow the faithful to “reach your full potential in all areas of your life.” “Scientology and the Aftermath” pulls back that curtain, while delivering a sobering warning to those who might be susceptible to the sales pitch.
“Leah Remini: Scientology and the Aftermath” premieres November 29 at 10 p.m. on A&E.