Trust Me, it’s no Mad Men

Like many people in advertising, I’m no stranger to questions about that show about 1960s advertising that won all those Emmys.  Some of the most common that come up are Ooooh, do you like Mad Men? and Is advertising like that advertising show on AMC?

My answers are You bet. and Sorta, but not really.

When I found out TNT was releasing Trust Me, a “current day” “dramatic comedy” about advertising*, I was excited.  I told everyone to watch the new series.  Maybe this will be an updated Mad Men, I thought.  (I wasn’t wishing for a carbon copy of the predecessor of course, but I wouldn’t be opposed to more great writing and acting.)  Unfortunately, it disappointed right from the get-go.

But despite the show’s many, many shortcomings, I can’t seem to quit watching.

Is it good?  No.  Are the characters likeable?  Occasionally, but for the most part, no. Does it showcase impressive creative?  I’m not sure I could be much more disappointed in Rothman Greene & Moore’s creative work.  One of the central tenets of good advertising is to avoid using puns.  If I had a dollar for every pun used in a tagline or headline on Trust Me, I’d be halfway to owning a new pair of running shoes.  I have to agree with what a friend said yesterday, I’m not sure it gets much worse than the pun-ridden tagline “Do Thumbthing” for RGM’s Arc Mobile (cell phone) campaign.

The creative work, like the series thus far, is mired in mediocrity.

But what’s keeping me watching?  Maybe it’s because I’m coming around to Sarah Krajieck-Hunter, the pretty, but easily frazzled, self-absorbed and recently divorced copywriter.  Or maybe I like the storylines related to Mason McGuire (the group’s creative director) and his tenuous balance of work and home life.  (Or rather, I sympathize with the rest of his family, which I find much more likeable.)

I know I don’t keep watching in hopes that Conner (Mason’s frustratingly juvenile copywriter partner) grows up, because I know that’s a lost cause.  And we know I’m not watching for the brilliant taglines or big ideas or, I cringe to say it, “outside the box” thinking.  (I couldn’t believe it but, “We’re just trying to think outside the box, ya know?,” was an actual line in the opening minute of the most recent episode.)

I guess, sadly, I’m just an advertising junkie, so I keep watching.  Bad advertising, good advertising, I feel like if I don’t watch I’m missing something.  It’s the fender bender on the side of the road: I’ve seen it so many times, but I have to look while I pass anyway.

It could be worse I suppose.  I could be watching more painful programs.  On the upside though, Trust Me has improved in recent weeks.  Plot lines have been much more realistic.  Though as much as I want it to be, it isn’t and will never be the next Mad Men.

I give it 2.0/4.0 stars, with the potential of reaching a 2.5, someday.

* I would argue that the show’s setting is neither current day (I’d say more early 2000s) nor is the show a dramatic comedy. RGM (the agency in the show) seems a little behind on the times compared to most advertising agencies I’ve visited in the past few years.  The characters on Trust Me act like any and all interactive work is cutting-edge and innovative (and don’t get me started on “viral”).  And for the most part, the show only addresses traditional advertising media like TV, radio and print.  (Perhaps unbeknownst to the average Trust Me watcher, many agencies have focused on and excelled with interactive work for years.)  I also think in order for a show to qualify as a dramatic comedy, the show has to be funny at semi-regular intervals.  I can probably count on one hand how many times I’ve laughed in the first nine episodes.

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1 Comment

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One response to “Trust Me, it’s no Mad Men

  1. OK, here’s where I make my embarrassing confession. I was so psyched to see Mad Men when it started – I love the subject matter and the time period, and it looked like it could be really cool. But I quit about four episodes in because I absolutely hated it. I’m going to give it another chance eventually, because of all the laurels it’s received, and I have to at least give it credit for being way more ambitious than Trust Me is. Trust Me is growing on me, although I agree with your assessment completely. You didn’t mention the junior creative team, who are actually my favorite characters on the show. I’m glad to see that they’re getting more screentime. I also like Sarah K-H, although I think that’s probably because we have a lot in common (for better or worse).

    I think what you said about Trust Me’s early-2000s setting makes a lot of sense. Of course, a giant ad agency like RGM wouldn’t constantly be putting out cutting-edge creative, but the art direction, etc. still seems about a decade out of time. Interesting that in the most recent episode, where Connor’s former partner comes back to RGM, the art director’s book is said to be eight years old – yet the characters also acknowledge that the art direction is very late ’80s/early ’90s. I think it’s clear that Trust Me’s creators, while once actual advertising folks, haven’t worked in the industry in some time.

    And hey, puns aren’t always bad! Just 95 percent of the time. 🙂

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