It is tempting to compare TNT's new "Trust Me" to AMC's "Mad Men," but other than the fact that they both take place in advertising offices, the two shows have very little in common. "Mad Men" uses the advertising world as a window on the social and political changes of the early '60s. Hunt Baldwin and John Coveny, who created "Trust Me" (and have been writers on "The Closer") are former admen themselves; they chose the milieu to explore the creative process among a group of people with a collective-neuroses score high enough to maintain a smart and breezy comedy.
Which "Trust Me" promises to be. Starring Eric McCormack (late of "Will & Grace") and Tom Cavanagh ("Ed") as creative partners at a Chicago agency, "Trust Me" is a showcase for one of those male friendships currently known as a "bromance." (How we are going to explain ourselves, with our frenemies and bromances, to subsequent generations is simply beyond me.)
McCormack is Mason, the visual side of the team and the more buttoned-up of the two -- he is actually happily married -- while Cavanagh's Conner is the high-strung word guy and, rather surprisingly, the ladies' man. Not exactly an Alan and Denny odd-coupling (no wedding bells in their future), but then "Trust Me" is not trying to be "Boston Legal."
When the show opens, both men are suffering under the cruel lash of the screaming, petulant creative director Guy (Jason O'Mara), who has clearly seen "Swimming With Sharks" one too many times. The best thing about writing a TV show about your former workplace has to be the ability to re-create your most hateful boss and then kill him. But when agency director Tony Mink (Griffin Dunne) gives Guy's job to Mason, the basis of his relationship with Conner is put to the test.
Add to the mix the arrival of an industry diva by the name of Sarah Krajicek-Hunter (Monica Potter), who was hired by the now departed Guy to be his creative partner, a few highly demanding clients and a cadre of rumpled copywriters, and you pretty much have everything you need for a snappy, banter-heavy office comedy.
Miraculously, McCormack and Cavanagh manage to keep their characters sharply defined but low-key. They are opposites but not in an ash-smudged, Windex-wielding Felix and Oscar way.
"Trust Me" seeks to be a believable comedy -- the characters are heightened, but they are certainly recognizable to anyone who has worked in an office. Sarah enters demanding a window office, and Dunne in particular delivers a convincing "I'm listening, I'm listening, now I'm not" performance as a boss who doesn't want to know how it's done, just that it's done.
In many ways, advertising is the ideal TV office, at least for a show that hopes to balance clipped comedic dialogue with the exploration of a few larger (which isn't to say heavier) issues, such as loyalty, ambition, friendship and personal integrity.
Back in the old days, if you wanted a bunch of people to sit around trading quips while actually creating something, you'd have one of them at a piano, writing a musical. "The Dick Van Dyke Show" did it with TV comedy writers, but if "30 Rock" is to be believed, they don't do much anymore besides order food and hurl insults.
No, advertising is perfect because there is writing involved, but it's the kind that involves a lot of talking. Most non-ad writers spend far too much time either actually writing, telling people how they can't seem to write, eating cereal right out of the box or leaning their foreheads against any cool surface they can find. None of which is entertaining in any way.
But advertising writers sit around throwing startling, sparkling or silly sentences in the air while their more graphically minded counterparts scribble away and then ball up piece after piece of paper. They get to lie on sofas, like Cary Grant did in "Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House," muttering amusing haiku about ham and after-shave to the newspapers steepled over their faces.
They get to recite, as they do most hilariously in "Trust Me," famous tag lines like "Uh-Oh, SpaghettiOs" and "Kills Bugs Dead" as if they were lines of the 23rd Psalm.
But more important, they get to behave neurotically in a pressure-cooker situation -- impossible deadlines, emergency meetings, Hail Mary saves -- with nothing more at stake than the newest jingle for a cellphone company.
In this time of economic uncertainty and political transition, if that isn't a comedic gold mine, what is?
When: 10 tonight
Rating: TV-14 (may be unsuitable for children under the age of 14)