'Trust Me'

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You have to feel a bit for Hunt Baldwin and John Coveny, the former ad industry execs who created and executive produce this new TNT dramedy series. It's inevitable that their wholly inventive hour will be compared to the 800-pound gorilla at AMC known as "Mad Men," but trust me that any similarities it might have with "Trust Me" is very much like comparing Big Apples and oranges.

For one thing, "Mad Men" is set in the early 1960s in Manhattan, while "Trust Me" unfolds in modern-day Chicago. This isn't Coke vs. Pepsi; it's Chivas Regal vs. Zima.

This is not to disparage this energetic, clever and irresistibly cynical new effort that makes the brilliant casting decision of hiring "Will & Grace's" Eric McCormack and "Ed's" Tom Cavanagh, whose chemistry is instant and obvious. They play a couple of feuding, persistently exasperated ad agency partners struggling to survive in a world of frenetic meltdowns and cutthroat ambition. The first pair of episodes augur a breezily entertaining addition to the TNT stable of dramatic originals.

Far less dour and atmospheric than "Mad Men," "Trust Me" tells the flamboyant, genre-hybrid tale of newly promoted art director Mason (McCormack) and his flaky, impulsive copywriting cohort Conner (Cavanagh), whose quickness in brainstorming a brilliant tagline is exceeded only by his ADHD-style inability to focus. Mason's the married grown-up, Conner the single hedonist with Peter Pan syndrome.

Surrounding them at the fictitious firm of Rothman Green & Mohr is the award-winning new hire Sarah (Monica Potter), a fireball of neurotic angst; their insecure supervisor Tony (a grand turn from Griffin Dunne); and the idiosyncratic junior creatives Hector (Geoffrey Arend) and Tom (Mike Damus), who spend much of their time nosing around other people's desks.

"Trust Me" isn't going to be for every taste. It is, for one thing, profoundly pessimistic and contemptuous. But it masks the darkness in a stylistic sheen of witty patter and characters who arrive at the table surprisingly fully formed. The second episode is less hard-edged but just as biting and offhanded. The in-jokey farce plays with a self-assured insider's hand. (partialdiff)
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