Hollywood contributes to its own image problems in two worthwhile new TV dramas about stars behaving badly premiering this week, “The Arrangement” and “National Treasure,” both with ripped-from-headlines undertones.
Airing on E!, “The Arrangement” focuses on a struggling young actress asked to enter into a contract marriage with a popular movie star. Just to erase any doubts about the inspiration, said star is the most public face of a quasi-cult-like religion known as the Institute for the Higher Mind, presided over by a slick, messianic leader (“Alias’” Michael Vartan) who takes an inordinate interest in controlling his associations and career.
Josh Henderson (“Dallas”) plays the actor, Kyle West, who meets the star-struck Megan (Christine Evangelista from “The Walking Dead”) at an audition and thinks nothing of whisking her off to Mexico on a private jet, followed by a jaunt to the Venice Film Festival.
“Do you think I’m really looking for a beard?” he asks, seemingly wounded by the fact Megan might question the motives of someone who wants to get hitched after knowing her a couple of days, or says things about the cult’s leader like, “Terence saw a better version of me before I did.”
If “The Arrangement” is the more marketable concept – in a slightly trashy, guilty-pleasure way – Hulu’s “National Treasure” is more searing and provocative. In addition, this British production dares to cast two older actors in central roles, with the four-episode miniseries marking another step up in class and ambition for the streaming service.
Robbie Coltrane (among other things, Hagrid in the Harry Potter movies) stars as Paul Finchley, a beloved British comedy icon who is accused of rape by multiple women. This comes as an apparent shock not only to him, as he hurries to mount a defense, but also to his wife of 41 years (fellow Potter grad Julie Walters, delivering a show-stopping performance), who had quietly endured her husband’s many affairs but wasn’t prepared for anything like this.
As constructed, “National Treasure” plays like a clever mash-up of celebrity scandals, mixing the BBC children’s star Jimmy Savile, who sexually assaulted women and children; and Bill Cosby, who, like the show’s protagonist, admitted to infidelity but has denied sexual-assault allegations. By unfolding largely from Paul’s perspective, the storytelling is inordinately good at keeping the audience guessing about what to believe.
Both shows are plenty watchable, although “The Arrangement” feels slighter – like the pages of US Weekly come to fictional life. While the wheels grind somewhat slowly in each when it comes to disgorging secrets, “National Treasure” is meatier, and with just four chapters, eminently binge-worthy.
Best known for its corporate arrangement with the Kardashians, E! has enjoyed modest success in the scripted arena with “The Royals.” “The Arrangement” features a different kind of royalty, but like more than one fairy-tale princess seeking happily ever after in Hollywood, the glass slipper comes with a darker side to it.
“National Treasure” premieres March 1 on Hulu. “The Arrangement” premieres March 5 at 10 p.m. on E!