There's no doubt that FX is the network to turn to for a well-made docudrama.
Trust Season 1 Episode 1 is nothing if not well-made.
However, at least this early in the game, I'm finding it difficult to connect with much of the new series on a deeper level.
In terms of behind-the-scenes aspects, Trust couldn't have dropped at a better time. It premiered right on the heels of the finale of American Crime Story: The Assassination of Gianni Versace, another historical crime-based anthology series that was a huge hit for the network.
The FX show also premiered several months after the release of All the Money in the World, the Ridley Scott film that chronicles the same basic story (John Paul Getty III's kidnapping) in an entirely different way.
That said, you can really tell right off the bat that the series premiere was directed by an acclaimed and award-winning director who is predominantly known for his work in film.
Danny Boyle has directed films including Trainspotting, Slumdog Millionaire, 28 Days Later, and 127 Hours. According to his filmography, he's also directed several TV films and a few standalone episodes, but unless I'm mistaken, Trust seems to be his first, extensive foray into TV.
I always hesitate to say that a TV show has a "cinematic quality," because that's such a hard-to-define concept that quite often doesn't actually mean anything at all. So I'll just say this: Trust looks and feels quite different than your standard one-hour drama.
From the second the camera zooms under the door of the garage where George Getty is about to stab himself with a barbecue fork – what a way to go! – that much is evident.
The show begins its story before the actual kidnapping that it will eventually follow, and that sets the scene for what the series will really be about: namely, the enormously wealthy Getty family and all of its accompanying misfortune. Not so much the kidnapping itself.
The kidnapping of John Paul Getty III is what closes out the first installment of the season. Everything prior works to set the scene and develop family patriarch and billionaire oil tycoon J. Paul Getty as a character (and, to a lesser degree, to develop his son and grandson as characters).
But make no mistake: the centerpiece of this season opener is Donald Sutherland and his magnificently craggy, well-worn, expressive face.
Getty: [The English] still think oil is just stuff that makes their cars go. Oil is everything. Everything! You got up this morning and washed your hair. The shampoo was derived from oil. Your toothbrush is made entirely of oil-based plastic. Your jacket's polyester, made from ethylene. Your sneakers, plastic tops, synthetic rubber soles. All stuck together with an oil-based adhesive.
Paul: Cotton underpants.
Getty: And they got to the store how? By donkey, or diesel truck?
Sutherland is a legendary actor with an incredible career behind him, and I'm sure he was a huge casting get for the people behind the show.
There are several interspersed moments throughout the premiere where the camera simply lingers on Sutherland's face, which manages to speak volumes about his inner thoughts while he doesn't speak a word.
It's remarkable, and I'm confident I'd continue to watch this show just for him alone, even if I weren't reviewing the entire season for TV Fanatic.
"The House of Getty" truly is a showcase for the patriarch at the heart of it.
And a quick FYI: because three separate characters (of the five main characters) share the exact same name, for the sake of clarity I'll refer to J. Paul Getty Sr. (played by Sutherland) exclusively as "Getty," John Paul Getty Jr. (Michael Esper) as "Jr.," and John Paul Getty III (Harris Dickinson) as "Paul."
The premiere does a solid job of characterizing Getty quickly and effectively, albeit a bit heavy-handedly at times.
The opening King Lear reference, for example, is a bit on-the-nose – although extremely apt, for what we quickly see of Getty's cruel, unfeeling nature.
An important, and creepy, a distinction is that King Lear promises the largest share of his kingdom to whichever daughter loves him best, and Getty is dealing with four eager-to-inherit mistresses, not daughters.
I am his girlfriend. They are decoration.Penelope
Similarly, Getty doesn't seem overly affected by his son George's suicide.
When his man, James Fletcher Chace (Brendan Fraser), reports the circumstances of George's death, Getty is mainly concerned with making sure word doesn't get out that it was a suicide by barbecue fork. He's also aggravated that he's out of a successor yet again.
When Getty delivers the eulogy at his son's funeral, it's impersonal and cold. He claims he'll miss their phone calls, which succinctly gives you an idea of what the relationship between father and son was like before George's death.
That phone call line is actually one of my favorite small details because it implies Getty's character in a less hamfisted way than some of the other characterizations (the King Lear comparison, particularly).
Another great detail is Getty's impotence, which seems to be a direct, literal parallel to his lack of a worthy successor.
By being unable to perform sexually, he's unable to pass along his "lineage" to any of his girlfriends (in other words, to create a new heir and continue his legacy in the oil industry in any meaningful way).
The characterization of John Paul Getty III is less impressive.
Harris Dickinson's performance certainly isn't bad, and he seems to do the most he can with what he's given.
Unfortunately, he's given a rather thinly-written character. He doesn't appear to have nearly as much depth as Getty Sr. – and yes, for the record, someone can have depth while still being fundamentally unlikeable.
So far, all we really know about the younger Paul is that he likes art (something he uses to bond with his grandpa), is 16 years old, has a shitty dad, and inherited said shitty dad's predilection for drug abuse.
Paul: I love old stuff. Actually, I've got a project of my own. I've been thinking of going to Morocco.
Getty: No oil in Morocco. And being there didn't do your father any good.
Paul: True. But with respect, sir, my father's an idiot.
The conflict of John Paul Jr. (Getty's son/Paul's dad) is at least somewhat interesting. He, along with his wife Victoria, angles to take over as Getty's successor in the wake of George's death. For Jr., that means even throwing his son under the bus after the great scene where Getty humiliates Jr. in front of his party guests.
Unfortunately, because Paul is so thinly characterized, there isn't much of an impact when Getty reacts so harshly to the fact that Paul posed nude in Playmen Magazine and passive-aggressively kicks him out of the house by having Bullimore give him a one-way ticket back to Rome.
Weirdly, I find myself feeling more for Getty, despite his inarguable terribleness, than for Paul.
Sutherland does such a fantastic job of evoking his desperation to find a suitable successor, his immutable excitement when he begins the early stages of grooming Paul for the role, and finally, his utter disappointment when he finds Paul to be unworthy – just more of the same among the Getty descendants.
Similarly, the closing sequence, when Paul is finally kidnapped by (presumably) the men he owes money to in Rome, doesn't have much impact. The most interesting thing about that scene, actually, is that John Paul Getty III's real-life sister says that the series portrays several members of being complicit in the kidnapping.
Strangely, that isn't the take I had on that scene at all.
Though Paul gives up running from his kidnapper and allows himself to be taken by the fountain, I thought of it as more an indication of him realizing he couldn't outrun what he'd gotten himself into.
I guess we'll see more that indicates some members of the family were in on the kidnapping in upcoming episodes.
What I'm Excited to See More Of:
- The power dynamic between Getty's various mistresses. Penelope is, as she says, "the girlfriend," while the rest of the women are "decoration." Similarly, Penelope is the only one to stick around when Getty brings out "Teresa," his African lion – something that Getty credits to her loyalty.
- Bullimore! His few interactions with Paul before the younger man was shipped back out to Rome are really interesting and unexpected. They indicate that the straitlaced butler is actually quite venomous regarding his employer, which will be an interesting dynamic to see play out.
- James Fletcher Chace (played by Brendan Fraser! In a cowboy hat!) and Gail Getty, Jr.'s ex-wife and Paul's mom (played by Hilary Swank). Of the five main characters, they were the two I was most excited to see. Chace appeared only very briefly in the beginning and in the funeral scene, while Gail has yet to appear at all.
- Getty's notoriously frugal nature. That detail about having a payphone in his Sutton Place house for guests to use? Apparently, that was real.
What did you think of the series premiere of Trust? Share your thoughts in the comments below, and don't forget that you can watch Trust online here at TV Fanatic anytime!
Caralynn Lippo is a staff writer for TV Fanatic. Follow her on Twitter.