‘Trial & Error’ successfully echoes past NBC hit comedies

Amusing whodunit blends elements of mockumentaries with classic crime dramas


“Trial & Error” may join the ranks of classic NBC comedies. 

Courtesy NBC Universal Television

In the past decade, NBC has produced some of the most beloved comedies to ever air on television. However, there has recently been a hole in the network’s weekly lineup — one that was previously filled by the antics of household names like Michael Scott, Liz Lemon and Leslie Knope. “Trial & Error” — the network’s latest comedy — premiered March 14, and its deadpan mockumentary style and familiar sense of humor successfully echo past NBC hits.

The show follows Josh Segal (Nicholas D’Agosto), an eager New York lawyer whose buoyancy and optimism become slightly compromised when he heads to South Carolina. He makes this trip to defend Larry Henderson (John Lithgow) — a hapless and blundering poetry professor accused of killing his wife by throwing her through a plate glass window. Henderson’s perceived disregard for the gravity of his situation and tendency to inopportunely blurt out outrageous things make his chances for exoneration slim to none, but Segal is nevertheless determined to prove his client’s innocence. Unfortunately, this means constantly clashing with Carol Anne Keane (Jayma Mays) — the case’s tenacious prosecutor who sees Henderson’s conviction as the perfect opportunity for a career boost.

Segal’s only support in his seemingly impossible mission comes from his eccentric investigation team. Dwayne Reed (Steven Boyer) — the case’s unrefined lead investigator with a heavy Southern drawl — and Anne Flatch (Sherri Shepherd) — the team’s cheerful, scatterbrained researcher coping with a medley of rare psychological disorders — complete the trio. Though these characters mean well, Josh’s task becomes increasingly difficult through their incompetent, unprofessional behavior whenever new evidence incriminating Henderson surfaces.

“Trial & Error” relies on several of the same tropes as its preceding mockumentaries. Josh is the show’s Jim Halpert (“The Office”) or Ben Wyatt (“Parks and Recreation”) — a refreshing voice of reason who often gives an uncomfortable glance to the camera after other characters’ embarrassing or inappropriate comments. The humor ranges from being stupidly crude to slightly dark. Some of the show’s biting dialogue illustrates the latter — when Larry wanders past the human-sized hole in his plate glass window, he solemnly laments, “There are subtle reminders of Margaret everywhere!”

The enigma of the man on trial may be the show’s most striking quality. Lithgow’s performance as a possible murderer with a passion for “rollercising” — a more strenuous workout than regular rollerblading — is both ridiculous and endearing in its appeal to the audience despite the grim circumstances. The juxtaposition of Henderson’s two sides — delightfully adorable man and emotionally detached killer — creates a surprisingly interesting character. The audience is left with the question — is Henderson really guilty, or just disturbingly clueless?

“Trial & Error” has a long way to go before joining the ranks of “The Office” and “Parks and Recreation.” However, its combination of far-fetched situations, a sardonic atmosphere and a stand-out performance by Lithgow offer a feel comparable to its predecessors while still having its own distinct touch.

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