Has TNT Broken Through Its Programming Standbys With 'Trust Me'?

Modern Day Mad Men Join Cable Net's Roster of Cops, Robbers and Lawyers in Promising Series

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Sure, "Trust Me" is -- nominally -- about the persuasive power of advertising. And yes, it comes from guys with Madison Ave. (well, Michigan Ave.) street cred: Co-creators Hunt Baldwin and John Coveny both did nearly a decade at the venerable Leo Burnett in Chicago.

Trust Me
Photo: TBS
'Trust Me'
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But for TNT to finally convince me that it's transcended its past as a vending machine filled with stale snack-packs of cop, lawyer and doctor shows on which my TiVo gorges without ever satisfying me, network brass needed to greenlight an entirely authentic show that went someplace new and fascinating. And it needed to make that show durable enough that it might eventually wind up playing, in perpetuity, on a second-rate cable network like, well, TNT.

With "Trust Me," TNT might have finally done just that.

Despite inevitable comparisons to AMC's moody, wrenching and addictive period piece "Mad Men," TNT's "Trust Me" is a modern mix of sincerity and smugness that's strangely compelling -- at least more than half of the time.

For while "Will & Grace" star Eric McCormack was great fun to watch as a gay "straight man" of that vaunted sitcom, he's much less interesting as a straight-laced actual straight man. His character, Mason, the copywriter-turned-creative director, is the ostensible star of "Trust Me," but it's actually his aptly named man-child of an art director pal Conner (Tom Cavanagh, of NBC's "Ed") who makes, if not steals, the show. Mr. Cavanagh's comic mania is frequently allowed off the leash as often as Mr. McCormack's is kept on it, usually to great comedic effect. ("You're like my best friend; you're like my brother. No, wait: He's a tool. You're like my non-dick brother," chirps Conner to Mason.)

Too bad, then, that the talented Mr. McCormack's Mason is often left with little to do but to gripe about his grappa hangover and frequently furrow his brow over having to eventually do to the right thing -- which usually involves cleaning up Conner's professional messes. They aim to be "The Odd Couple" 2.0, a "Felix Unger and Oscar Madison Avenue," if you will. Sometimes they even succeed, largely thanks to Conner.

The result, at least at first blush, could have been a cast dynamic that was more than a little uneven, if Messrs. Baldwin and Hunt hadn't done such an admirably good job rounding out the rest of the show: A coiled but also sweetly vulnerable Monica Potter (of the lamentably late "Boston Legal") plays Sarah Karjicek-Hunter, a bitter, divorced copywriter who's still inexplicably hyphenating her name and hyperventilating about virtually everything else. And it also stars Griffin Dunne, the gifted actor who should have gone on to have Martin Short's career after his brilliant debut in Martin Scorsese's underrated 1985 feature "After Hours." Instead, his talents were needlessly restrained by guest roles on shows such as "Law & Order" and "Frasier." Mr. Dunne is now perfectly seasoned to play Tony Mink, an ad-agency boss whose hangdog face belies a man who knows he has a bright future behind him.

One cannot be sure if "Trust Me," which debuts Jan. 26 at 10 p.m., will ultimately prove trustworthy. But two episodes in, while I may not be sold, I am willing to at least give it the benefit of the doubt.

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