TRIAL & ERROR: Tuesday 9PM on NBC – If Nothing Else Is On…
NBC’s TRIAL & ERROR is a cluttered joke-book of a sitcom that parodies true-crime docuseries like Making A Murderer and especially The Staircase. As in the latter, the accused murderer, here named Larry Henderson (John Lithgow), is a figure of some stature who has another similarly suspicious death in his past, but there’s no point in pursuing parallels between true life and fiction, since Trial & Error just uses the basic situation as the premise for a non-stop collection of gags.
Series creators Jeff Astroff and Matt Miller are old network hands with credits that go back to Friends and Chuck, and they provide some slim connective tissue in the form of the woeful team defending Larry: inexperienced “northeasterner” (i.e., Jewish) attorney Josh Segal (Nick D’Agosto); a general idiot investigator named Dwayne Reed (Steven Boyer), a joke that was funnier in The Night Of; and receptionist Anna Flatch (Sherri Shepherd), a walking assembly of so many neurological disorders that by Episode 2 she’s holding up a textbook to demonstrate that they’re all real. There’s also ambitious DA Carol Anne Keane (Jayma Mays), who alternates between relentlessly pursuing the death penalty for Larry and making moves on Josh, and Larry’s daughter Summer (Krysta Rodriguez).
The first 2 episodes (the opening half-hour written by Astroff & Miller and the 2d by Astroff, both directed by Jeffrey Blitz, whose Table 19 is currently flopping in theaters) provides a semblance of plotting as various clues are introduced and mostly mishandled (when Dwayne exhumes the body of Larry’s first wife, he accidentally immolates it in a gas station fire). The show’s predominant interest, though, is in ricocheting from joke to joke, most of them fairly low-level, like Josh’s legal office being the local taxidermy parlor, and Anna’s tendency to faint dead away whenever she sees anything visually pleasing. The characters are merely vehicles for their punchlines, and although Lithgow delivers his nutty lines with droll class, none of the roles have any substance.
NBC is running Trial & Error in back-to-back half-hours, and that seems unwise, because the show’s unvarying rhythm gets tired over the course of 60 minutes. After its post-This Is Us premiere tonight, though, it will have The Voice as a lead-in, so it should certainly be sampled by viewers. Watching it feels like something of a sentence, and those who come to it by its lead-in may soon be seeking parole.