Trust Me (Monday, 9 p.m., TNT) is about a creative duo who work at an ad agency. That's it - no ghosts, no vintage time period, no personality disorders. In short, no gimmicks. Instead, the series simply relies on strong acting, rich characters, brilliant writing and a vividly rendered setting. Why didn't anyone ever think of this approach before?
Mason (Eric McCormack) and Conner (Tom Cavanagh) are glorified con men perpetually scrambling for survival in the cutthroat world of advertising. They're artists of a sort, sipping drinks at poolside as they wait for inspiration to strike. But this is a degraded form of artistry, one based on catchy taglines. Trust Me sees the humor in a setting where the stakes are outrageously high (money, power, prestige) for stupid shampoo commercials. Conner is narcissistic and immature, Mason is sneaky and neurotic, and their new colleague (Monica Potter) is abrasive and arrogant. They're jerks, but the most appealing jerks you'll see on TV, thanks to actors who all deserve awards immediately.
You'll adore this series. Trust me.
Saturday, 7 pm (TLC)
Miss America has always been derided for its bizarre mix of T&A, charity and a talent competition worthy of a high school gymnasium. People snickered when the overly made-up, bird-brained, inarticulate contestants discussed their grand plans for conquering the world right after they played a horrible flute solo. Well, I don't have to tell you that the critics have finally been put in their place. One of those overly made-up, bird-brained, inarticulate flute players actually did conquer the world this year. Miss Alaska contestant Sarah Palin came within a hair's-breadth of the vice presidency by using an age-old Miss America strategy: spending a fortune on clothes and hairstyling.
You can bet that the Republican National Committee will scrutinize every wiggling butt and wobbling performance in this year's Miss America broadcast. After all, 2012 is just around the corner.
Screen Actors Guild Awards
Sunday, 7 pm (TBS, TNT)
I live in fear of a SAG award for Kate Winslet. When Winslet won a Golden Globe for The Reader earlier this month, she had a complete nervous breakdown at the podium. She wept, she stammered and she beat up on herself, all at great length. When she won another Golden Globe for Revolutionary Road later in the night, she went through the whole routine again.
If Winslet is this much of a mess when she wins an award, what must she be like when she loses?
The Last Templar
Sunday & Monday, 8 pm (NBC)
NBC's miniseries is based on the novel The Last Templar, a ripoff of The Da Vinci Code. Once again, modern-day researchers try to solve an ancient churchly mystery involving the Knights Templar. NBC is hoping no one notices that Scott Foley has been substituted for the star of the Da Vinci Code movie, Tom Hanks.
Note to NBC: We noticed.
Make 'em Laugh: The Funny Business of America
Wednesday, 8 pm (PBS)
I hated the first night of PBS's American comedy survey and loved the second night. For the final installment, I'm kind of like, "Whatever." The awkward organizing principle is reminiscent of a high school term paper, with comedians grouped under the rubric "Wiseguys and Smart-Alecks" whether they fit there or not. (Jack Benny?)
Luckily, the clips of Groucho Marx, W.C. Fields, Larry David and Redd Foxx redeem the stiff approach. Some of the commentary is good, too, especially Dick Gregory's line about listening to Foxx's raunchy records at 1960s parties: "Nobody brought the records out till all the Christians had left."
Lie to Me
Wednesday, 8 pm (Fox)
Lie to Me is a rarity: a new broadcast-network drama that's worth watching. Tim Roth is brilliant as Dr. Lightman, an expert in the scientific study of deception (based on the real-life Paul Ekman). Lightman knows all about the tiny expressions and gestures that suggest a person is lying: breaking eye contact, rigidly repeating a question, smiling without wrinkles around the eyes. We learn that eyebrows rise when someone already knows the answer to a question, that hands get cold when someone is afraid, and that dilated pupils suggest sexual arousal.
Lightman's company works with law enforcement to solve crimes, and his questioning of suspects and witnesses is a thing of beauty. He uses sarcasm, threats, lies - anything it takes to ferret out the truth.
Lie to Me is one of the best new series of 2008-09. I'm willing to say that to your face without breaking eye contact.