Give TNT credit for venturing beyond the realm of cops, docs and lawyers for its latest original series Trust Me. Then immediately take some of that credit back for TNT having the bad luck—one assumes—to launch a comedy-drama about an ad agency in the age of Mad Men. Of course, given TNT’s impressive track record with their original programming, maybe Mad Men partisans are the ones who should be worried. If TNT can draw higher ratings with the by-the-numbers legal drama Raising The Bar than AMC can with one of the best shows in television history, then there’s no reason to think that Trust Me won’t connect broadly, no matter how bland it is.
And make no mistake: A few stray cusswords aside, Trust Me is very, very bland. Affable TV vets Eric McCormack and Tom Cavanagh co-star as, respectively, an art director and copywriter for a frazzled Chicago agency. In the series premiere, McCormack gets promoted after his boss dies, and though Cavanagh is initially irritated that his former partner and best friend is now the man in charge, eventually the team pulls together to pitch a new campaign to Arc Mobile, a cel phone company.
Meanwhile, Monica Potter arrives as a hot young copywriter with Clios-aplenty for her work at other agencies, and a chip on her shoulder about the kind of work female copywriters are often forced to handle. (“I don’t do shampoo,” she grumbles.) In fact, much of Trust Me seems to be covertly about traditional gender roles and the subversion thereof. When one of Potter’s new cubicle-mates wants to denigrate the masculinity of his co-worker, he tells Potter, “If you need a Billy Joel poster, Tom here has a couple thousand.” And when McCormack’s boss (played by Griffin Dunne) wants to woo him to take a promotion, he uses a complicated skeletal metaphor and coos, “You are my cartilage.”
Mostly though, Trust Me is about the collaboration between the loose, swing-for-the-fences Cavanagh and his uptight family-man pal McCormack. We watch them brainstorm a lame-sounding campaign about text messaging throughout history (using a character Cavanagh dubs “Spar-text-icus”) and we follow the rest of the agency through disastrous focus group sessions and several abandoned slogans (from the not-bad “Way Beyond The Call” to the terrible “Let Your Thumbs Do The Talking”) until Cavanagh saves the day at the last minute with the absolutely awful tagline, “What Can You Do With One Hand?”
Trust Me isn’t outright bad, but everything about it feels packaged and impersonal, right down to the casting of two familiar faces as the leads. Really, the show is most interesting as an addition to the tele-ography of Cavanagh, who has a habit of being cast as soulful iconoclasts who are only as hip as the once-removed-from-hip people writing his characters. Cavanagh’s breakthrough role in Ed was okay (for the first season at least), but while watching Trust Me’s not-quite-convincing version of the advertising world, I kept flashing back to Cavanagh’s excruciating CBS series Love Monkey, in which he played a “cutting edge” record label A&R man with very little real-world understanding of either mainstream or alternative music.
I still think a TV drama or comedy about the realities of working in a 21st century ad agency is a good idea. Maybe someday I’ll get to see one.
-Is Trust Me really the best title they could come up with? The show was originally supposed to be called Truth In Advertising, which has more color. Trust Me sounds too much like Fox’s Lie To Me. In fact, I keep confusing the two.
-Apparently TNT is giving the Trust Me creative team the license to drop the occasional “pussy” and “bullshit” and to use dialogue along the lines of “cel phones are like arseholes” (in that “no one thinks about them until they stop working”). Aside from the language though, there’s not much that’s especially adult about this show, and I’m not sure I understand why they’re going in this direction. This ain't exactly Nip/Tuck.
-TNT sent out two episodes of Trust Me, and I checked out a little of the second one as well. I admit that the standard soapy elements of a show like this drew me in more than I expected, but Trust Me doesn’t really get any deeper.
-Trust Me premieres tonight on TNT at 10 p.m. eastern.