TNT’s latest original series, Trust Me, too frequently falls back on familiar TV tropes. The relationship between the show’s two leads is classic television formula: Eric McCormack plays the studious, responsible friend, while Tom Cavanagh is the roguish, unreliable pal who spends more time mucking about than getting any work done. It’s a dynamic that’s the basis for most sitcoms, including McCormack’s last series, Will & Grace, but it’s less effective here as several scenes are diverted, rather than enhanced, by tiresome sophomoric humor.
Set at a Chicago ad agency, the show centers on best friends Mason McGuire (McCormack) and Conner (Cavanagh), successful copywriting partners whose work lives change dramatically with the sudden death of the firm’s creative director and über-personality Stu Hoffman (Life on Mars‘s Jason O’Mara). Inevitably, one friend, Mason, is made the new creative director, thus becoming his buddy’s new boss, and, predictably, the pal without a first name (there’s a blank spot on the nameplate on his office door) takes things badly. While the series is essentially a crisis-of-the-week dramedy in which characters routinely come up with clever marketing slogans to save the company, early on the show has displayed the potential to rise above typical TV formulas.
Directed by Michael M. Robin and written by creators Hunt Baldwin and John Coveny (TNT’s The Closer), the first two episodes center on a fundamental credo in advertising, “Perception is reality,” and there’s a wonderful opportunity to play on the idea of true and false perceptions. In two establishing shots in the second episode, the camera work mimics a television ad, the first a loving pan over a Chris-Craft boat with Conner describing it in flowery PR language (he is trying to convince Mason to buy it) and the second a shot of Mason shaving with an extreme close-up reminiscent of a Gillette razor commercial. Regardless of whether they were in the script or if they were Robin’s invention, these allusions should become a series staple as they weave viewers in an out of the ubiquitous world of TV advertising. For a moment, viewers might even be left unsure if they’ve gotten back from that commercial break.
Trust Me could easily revolve around the art of bullshit, where characters lie to protect or advance their careers or take credit for others’ work, but in a corporate office setting where focus groups serve as a kind of Greek chorus, popping up in imaginary conversations with characters, the show avoids seeming too cynical. (This offbeat nature also helps distance it from obvious comparisons to AMC’s Mad Men.) Aside from the focus-group gimmick, however, the only other play on perceptions comes with Conner’s attempt to reconnect with an old flame that goes wrong when her husband intercepts his text messages. The moment is unexpected, but the entire third episode is not as successfully cloaked in misdirection as the first two and feels more like a generic dramedy.
The show reveals that successful ad campaigns can fail just as easily as they succeed. In television, the same is true. A show that pushes past the safe, focus-group-tested TV waters, like Trust Me, has the best chance of finding an unexplored niche and running with it. The series is set in a world that praises the lie, and if the creators can mine that vein for inspiration and avoid falling for the conventional TV drama traps, they could have a better show to sell to their advertisers.