TNT’s Trust Me takes the thrill out of the ad world
Thu, Jan 22, 2009 (midnight)
One of the achievements of AMC’s Mad Men is how it has turned advertising into a sort of mythical pursuit that is symbolic of everything great and horrible about the American way of life. But that somber, meaningful portrayal obscures the fact that, for many people (especially now, rather than during the 1960s of Mad Men), work in advertising is just another job. Thus it’s perhaps fitting that the profession now has its own entirely mundane workplace drama, Trust Me (TNT, Mondays, 10 p.m.). Created by a pair of advertising veterans who were most recently writers on TNT’s hugely successful crime procedural The Closer, Trust Me is thoroughly mediocre, an occasionally entertaining look at typical office shenanigans that could easily be transported to a law firm or a software company with few alterations.
It most closely resembles the law firm-intensive work of prolific writer-producer David E. Kelley, the man responsible for the likes of Ally McBeal and Boston Legal. Trust Me even features former Legal co-star Monica Potter, playing a very Kelley-esque neurotic, pushy modern career woman. Potter isn’t the lead, though; Eric McCormack of Will & Grace and Tom Cavanagh of Ed play central characters Mason and Conner, advertising veterans who’ve been partners for years. Mason is the pragmatic, grounded one, with the wife and kids, while Conner is the impulsive, self-destructive genius. It’s a pretty standard dynamic, one that’s put to the test when Mason is promoted to creative director of his division, making him Conner’s boss.
Cavanagh’s manic-immaturity schtick gets old very quickly, as does Potter’s constant neediness. They have the exaggerated quirks of Kelley characters without enough of the genuine humor or emotional connection. By the second episode, the Kelley-isms have gotten to be a bit much—freaked out over a focus group rejecting the tag line for a campaign, Mason envisions the group members talking to him about how much he’s screwed things up. It’s the kind of silly fantasy sequence that falls flat at least half the time when Kelley tries it, and here it’s just one more forced gimmick that tries to make the show seem more innovative than it really is.
TNT has been working hard on beefing up its slate of original dramas in its goal of becoming viable competition for the broadcast networks, and Trust Me at first seems like a formula-breaker following procedurals The Closer and Saving Grace (which does add a supernatural element to its crime-solving) and extraordinarily dull lawyer show Raising the Bar. Given the creators’ background, the show undoubtedly has a reasonable degree of verisimilitude, but all its talk of cutting-edge branding and market research is really just a gloss on a decades-old form. Of course, that makes it perfect for a network whose goal is to emulate what’s gone before.
In the margins of this somewhat tired exercise are a number of solid actors; the supporting and recurring cast features the likes of Griffin Dunne, Tim Russ and Jason O’Mara. Even Potter and Cavanagh clearly have the skills to transcend their characters’ irritating tics, and McCormack is likeable as the everyman lead. Tone down some of the more egregious Kelley-style quirks, and this could be a perfectly solid show. As far as TNT is concerned, that seems to be all that’s necessary.