“It turns out a rich life is just as messed up as a poor life,” drawls Brendan Fraser at the end of Trust’s second episode. It’s an accurate, however banal, summary of the new FX drama, which uses the real-life kidnapping of John Paul Getty III in 1973 as an “inspired-by” launchpad for its 10-episode first season.
Lanky, long-haired and broke, Paul (Harris Dickinson) arrives at Sutton Place — the historic estate of his billionaire grandfather J. Paul Getty (Donald Sutherland) — looking for $6,000 to pay off his debts. Though the notoriously stingy Getty takes a brief liking to his grandson, Paul is soon exiled back to Italy, where he hatches a kidnapping hoax that spirals, as such things often do, out of control.
The first three episodes of Trust (premiering Sunday at 10 p.m. ET), all directed by exec producer Danny Boyle, adapt a variety of styles: Perverse Gothic soap opera, featuring J. Paul Getty’s sexual experimentation with his Sutton Place harem; groovy ‘70s cop drama, starring Fraser’s cowboy-hat wearing investigator James Fletcher Chase, who travels to Italy in search of the missing Getty heir; and art-house crime thriller tracing the plotting and subsequent unraveling of Paul’s doomed kidnapping plan. (Unfortunately Dickinson plays Paul as such a slack-jawed cipher, you don’t much care whether he escapes captivity.)
With Boyle and Simon Beaufoy (The Full Monty) at the helm, there’s reason to hope that Trust will settle on a sustainable tone as the season progresses. Until then, Sutherland does a typically excellent job conveying J. Paul Getty’s stern disappointment in his “feckless progeny,” while Fraser gives a controlled, magnetic performance as former CIA agent/Getty family fixer Chase. With his bolo ties and Texas twang, Chase could have been a cartoon, but Fraser keeps him on the right side of caricature, and he is a real joy to watch. Whatever Trust becomes, I hope it serves as Fraser’s 10-episode audition for the lead in Fargo, season 4. Make it happen, FX. B-