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TELEVISION REVIEW

'Trust Me' sells a punchy product

By Matthew Gilbert
Globe Staff / January 26, 2009
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Like so many contemporary workplace shows, TNT's "Trust Me" is an homage to workaholics, those obsessed, stressed, devoted, over-caffeinated people who are married to their jobs. The "Trust Me" ad-agency staffers are turned on by deadlines, passionate about personnel politics, and deeply content to wake up on the office couch after a night of mad idea-making, a meeting table strewn with empty Starbucks cups nearby.

We've seen these punchy co-workers on TV before, notably on Aaron Sorkin's trio of verbally agile workplace series - "Sports Night," "The West Wing," and "Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip." They talk really fast, often while walking down really long hallways. But at the Chicago firm in "Trust Me," the tone is more farcical and mainstream than anything Sorkin might have evoked. From two producers of "The Closer," both former ad execs, the show, which premieres tonight at 10, is an effervescent screwball comedy with a bromantic twist.

No, it's not "quality cable TV" or Top 10 list material, and it's marred by lapses into character cutesiness. But still, I liked it. It's likable.

If you've seen the ubiquitous ad campaign for "Trust Me" (fitting for a show about advertising), you know that the leads are TV faces Eric McCormack and Tom Cavanagh. McCormack, who was Will on "Will & Grace," and who remains inescapably Will-like, plays Mason, the grounded, responsible artistic director. Cavanagh, from "Ed" and the short-lived "Love Monkey," is Conner, Mason's copy-writing partner, who drinks, talks, womanizes, and pouts too much.

They are extremely codependent best friends, a G-rated version of the twisted "Nip/Tuck" doctors, with Mason playing the care-taking, self-denying father figure to Conner's rebel teen. But when they brainstorm together, it's a bond made in heaven. If "Trust Me" and "Mad Men" have anything in common beyond the advertising milieu, it's the poetic aura of the collaboration scenes in which the ad campaigns are developed. You almost forget they're writing sales pitches and not love songs.

In the first two episodes of "Trust Me," the ad firm deals with last-minute account crises, an employee's death, tense client presentations, and some good old-fashioned let's-put-on-a-show triumph. But the episodes primarily serve as an introduction to the well-cast ensemble. Griffin Dunne is the boss, and he generates honest warmth, even as he sends his employees from a meeting saying, "Mush, mush." He has a hint of desperation about him, too, which serves as a nod to the recession-era climate in the real business world.

Monica Potter plays a new employee bent on getting her own office with a window. Her neurotic struggles with her own ego - she won a Clio award and thinks she deserves to be pampered - give her token-office-female role a nice twist. And Sarah Clarke, who was Nina on "24," is on the periphery of the mix, as Mason's wife. At one point next week, she'll go undercover in an ad-campaign focus group, as will Conner - preposterous plot turns that push "Trust Me" further into slapstick than I'd like. Let's hope the writers resist absurdity. I've caught the show's appealing pitch, and I don't want to have to drop it.

Matthew Gilbert can be reached at gilbert@globe.com. For more on TV, visit www.boston.com/ae/tv/blog.

TRUST ME Starring: Eric McCormack, Tom Cavanagh, Sarah Clarke, Griffin Dunne, Monica Potter

On: TNT

Time: Tonight, 10-11

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