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Trial & Error premieres tonight, March 14, 10pm on NBC.
Right off the bat, Trial & Error isn’t afraid to have an absurd sense of humor. The pilot begins with a 911 call from Larry Henderson (John Lithgow) frantically telling the police that his wife appears to be dead. The call is interrupted by the cable guy, and Larry explains to the police that they’ll need to wait. (After all, he’s “impossible to pin down.”)
When Henderson is arrested, Junior Defense Attorney Josh Segal is appointed his lawyer. The somewhat competent Segal and his underwhelming and inexperienced team of Dwayne Reed (not the drug store), an idiotic redneck, and Anne Fratche, a woman with facial amnesia, dyslexia, and Involuntary Emotional Expression Disorder (a disease which makes her laughs in serious situations), must prove that Henderson did not kill his wife. They certainly aren’t the ‘dream team’ from the OJ Simpson trial. Each character is crafted well enough that they don’t seem like basic archetypes. Segal reminds me a bit of Kyle MacLachlan’s character, Dale Cooper in Twin Peaks (minus the kooky dreams). Both are the only capable players within their team in a murder case in the South. They even look alike.
When news comes out that the suspect is homosexual, he is almost guaranteed a guilty verdict. The show is set in East Peck, South Carolina where the Buggery Act still hasn’t been repealed, and in a county with people who are still not fond of the LGBTQ community. At the end of the first episode another bombshell emerges with news that Henderson’s first wife was also killed by being thrown through a plate-glass window, exactly the same way as his current wife. These twists keep viewers interested despite the many jokes that fall flat.
Trial & Error‘s gags are a little over the top but come at you non-stop. While many of them do land, the sheer abundance of jokes makes that a formality. For example, one of the funniest moments was when Segal was stopped from going into court because he was carrying lip balm, but the prosecutor walked into court with a gun without any backlash (remember, this is South Carolina). But one of the worst running jokes are the dead animal heads around Segal’s office. I found the vibe similar to Netflix’s Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt (which NBC actually passed on airing) but with more of an overarching plot.
Obviously the whole show is a parody of the true crime mysteries gripping American television (Serial, The Jinx, Making a Murderer, etc). The acting is not great but that might be the point. It’s hard to discern what is supposed to seem real and what’s fake with such a unique concept. What stood out in the first three episodes were the high stakes. Trial & Error may be a comedy, but you care what Henderson’s verdict will be. The fact that it’s shot like a real murder mystery show with interviews, cameramen, and names and places popping up at the bottom of the screen only adds to the entertainment value.
I thoroughly enjoyed Trial & Error. As a big fan of Making a Murderer I thought that this parodied it rather well. Though at times the humor could be a little bit out of touch, it was funny nonetheless.