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Shill, Baby, Shill: On TNT, 'Trust Me' Just Doesn't Ad Up

By Tom Shales
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, January 26, 2009

"Trust Me" must have sounded good at a pitch meeting. Picture this: a show that combines the flip, snippy buddy language of "Nip/Tuck" with the advertising-world setting of "Mad Men," thereby double-cloning two of cable's few scripted hits. But "Trust Me" shares another characteristic of those series: dumb, numbing soullessness. It has the emotional intricacy of a Ritz cracker.

Eric McCormack, who was mechanically amusing in "Will & Grace," plays advertising executive Mason McGuire, and Tom Cavanagh of the dead "Ed" plays his one-named friend and creative partner Conner in the cable comedy-drama set in Chicago and premiering tonight on TNT. The series is something of a "bromance" -- to borrow the title of one of MTV's most irritating reality shows ever -- a celebration of male bonding, though it's made clear in the second episode that Mason is heterosexually married and that Conner likes women, at least as bed mates.

Passion have they none, however, whether on-screen singly, as a pair or interlocked with other characters; they're a couple of goofs who jabber like parakeets and bicker like cranky codgers, a sort of summer-stock Felix and Oscar, only not funny. McGuire is the more serious, level-headed, down-to-earth type; Conner is the wild, erratic, slap-happily madcap type. One from Column A, one from Column B.

From Column C comes Sarah Krajicek-Hunter, the generic newcomer who always seems to arrive on the job in the first episode of a workplace show and who is played by Monica Potter with a bad case of the frisky cutes. The actress should not be blamed; her performance is in keeping with the prevailing tone and attitude of the show. Everybody spits out gibes, insults and cool-guy quips with the same shrugged indifference.

The irony in the title, meanwhile, is that virtually all the characters lie to one another, steal one another's ideas and try to scuttle one another's careers with fey abandon and malice aforethought. They're a tiresome troupe of tap-dancing Sammy Glicks, toiling in an essentially ridiculous occupation that series creators Hunt Baldwin and John Coveny (former ad execs) try to turn into something cutthroat and crucial.

It may be cutthroat, but there is nothing crucial or important about it, and so it seems unlikely that viewers will care if the CEO of the Arc Mobile phone company chooses as his company's slogan "Do thumb-thing" or the more suggestive "You can do it with one hand." The latter is fairly obvious in its double-entendre, and not unfunny, but in the second episode, characters act surprised and shocked by the double meaning of the phrase, which seems odd for a supposedly sophisticated crowd.

Likewise it's hard to care whether Conner and McGuire have a big fight and split or if they have a big hug and link up again. In one development with dramatic potential, McGuire is promoted to a top job at the agency (Rothman Greene & Mohr) while Conner, the supposedly brainy one, is left behind. What will this do to their friendship? Well, Conner storms off and gets into a fight with a stranger over the rights to a taxicab. Big deal.

Supposedly adding to the hilarity are Mike Damus and Geoffrey Arend as Tom and Hector, two smart-alecky scamps who sit around all day scoffing at co-workers and trading cracks that aren't remotely wise. Griffin Dunne, a serious actor who likes to take his roles seriously, seems out of place (more power to him) as Tony Mink, one of the confusing pyramid of bosses to whom our heroes answer.

The series begins with a mock-shock that echoes the opening sequence of "L.A. Law" way back in 1986: When a key member of the firm drops dead, one of the main characters tries to claim the fellow's comfortable desk chair. The opening moments are a visual quotation from a famous Chanel No. 5 commercial involving a bathing beauty in a swimming pool and the shadow of an airplane.

That's mere homage, but other commercial intrusions in the show are literal and corrupt. TNT executives have boasted -- they're proud of this, mind you -- that because the series takes place in the advertising realm, commercials for real products can be written into the scripts. So though you think you're watching entertainment, you're actually being shucked. And that makes McCormack, Cavanagh and the other actors little better than shills.

Actually, the notion that "you're watching entertainment" is a pretty erroneous presumption anyway. You're not watching entertainment; you're watching adfotainment, or some other hideous hybrid too sinister even to nickname.

Trust Me (one hour) premieres tonight at 10 on TNT.

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