Jan. 23 (Bloomberg) -- What, another television series about an ad agency?
'Trust Me', which premieres on TNT on Jan. 26 at 10 p.m. New York time, is 'Mad Men' without the pretensions -- or alcohol, tobacco and horn-dogging. For a show about the people whose work inspires countless clicks of the remote, 'Trust Me' is an enjoyable hour that clearly doesn't want to be taken too seriously.
The debut starts with a clever trick at the expense of a character named Stu. He's the sort of boss who inspires homicidal fantasies. He storms, he screams, he threatens his employees, and they're the ones who get off easy.
'Clients are idiots!' he roars.
In a world of vast television options, Stu nearly inspired me to exercise the bowling channel option. Yet as if by magic, a very pleasing fate befalls the creep, creating instant viewer goodwill. We're left with a cast of characters who are, for the most part, likeable and even sympathetic.
Mason (Eric McCormack) and Conner (Tom Cavanagh), are two creative types at the Chicago-based Rothman Greene & Mohr Advertising Agency. Both are passionate about their work, lanky and favor dark clothes: edgy, in a fairly conventional sort of way.
Yet there are differences. Mason is management material who benefits from Stu's collision with fate, while Conner considers himself the greater genius of the two. During a tiff, he calls Mason a 'hack', though Mason shakes it off. He seems to recognize that he hasn't been insulted by our era's John Donne.
Their boss, Tony Mink (Griffin Dunne), is an older guy living with visions of unemployment dancing in his troubled head, especially since a competitor threatens to steal a prized account. His panic level is so high he orders his staff to skip a colleague's memorial service. Heaven can wait. There are widgets to sell!
These gents are joined by Sarah (Monica Potter), a recently divorced, blond prima donna who is brand-new to the firm. Sarah is the sort of person many of us like to see slip on a patch of ice or choke on a sandwich -- not fatally, just enough to make the eyes bulge.
Sarah gets off on the wrong foot, and things never get much better. She raves when she doesn't get the promised office with a window, landing instead a spot in cubicleland. You'd think the Queen of England had been booked on a Greyhound, back near the loo.
Her hopes to save the threatened account -- a California- based cell-phone maker -- with a campaign featuring kissing thumbs gets two thumbs down from the boss. Sarah is stricken, as if she had vomited into the Steinway during a Carnegie Hall recital.
One senses her humbling will be one of the show's enduring, and endearing, themes.
Quoting Tag Lines
'Trust Me' is tightly written and highly breezy, though it does provide glimpses of life in the ad world that can't be considered plugs for the profession, as when Conner observes that 'the last thing Stu saw was the Pillsbury dough boy.'
The heaviest intellectual lifting occurs when the staff debates the artistic merits of tag lines, with Sarah quoting several -- 'Just do it, 'kills bugs dead' and 'Uh-oh! SpaghettiOs!' -- as if she were reciting Shakespearean sonnets.
Yet unlike the snakes and weasels who populate 'Mad Men', these chumps are fairly sympathetic, to the point where you can feel sorry for them, especially when their 'genius' goes unrecognized.
'What do you like best about this commercial?' a focus- group member is asked.
They are definitely creatures of our era, as opposed to 'Mad Men' 1960s New York. In Chicago, the cocktail hour doesn't start at 10 a.m., and when it does, whiskey and vodka have been replaced with red wine or a cool can of Coors. Smoking is almost entirely absent, and Connor even swears off caffeine.
Clearly, they take those public service ads from the Surgeon General far too serious