A Positive Verdict: NBC’s ‘Trial & Error’ is hilarious and brilliant


Photo credit: Tyler Golden/NBC

John Lithgow portrays Larry Henderson, a poetry professor accused of murdering his wife. Featured above is an image from the pilot episode, where Larry is being bombarded by news reporters. Image source: NBC’s ‘Trial & Error’ page.

Although most people tend not to associate murder with comedy, NBC’s “Trial & Error” seamlessly intertwines the two completely different genres to create a laugh-out-loud, off-beat mockumentary series.

The series was created by Jeff Astrof and Matt Miller, and “Trial & Error” is currently in its first season. The show stars John Lithgow as impulsive and utterly bizarre poetry professor Larry Henderson, who is accused of murdering his wife. 

In the opening scene, Larry calls 911 after finding his wife dead but puts the dispatcher on hold to speak to the cable company because he is frustrated with their poor customer service.

He also has an affinity for “rollerscising,” a combination of rollerskating and cardio, which is not to be confused with rollerskating. Because of his quirky behavior, Larry becomes a prime suspect in his wife’s murder, and New York attorney Josh Segal (Nicholas D’Agosto) steps in to defend him.

Larry’s family told him that he must hire a “Northeasterner” if he wants to have a decent defense.

Larry and Josh are up against a power-hungry and sexually-frustrated prosecutor (Jayma Mays), who needs a death penalty conviction to ensure that she wins the upcoming election for DA. Her name is Carol Anne Keane — a spoof on Carolyn Keene, the author of the Nancy Drew mystery series.

Many of the characters’ names in the show are extremely clever.

“Trial & Error” takes place in the fictional South Carolina town of East Peck, and Prosecutor Carol Anne Keene is hoping for death by electrocution. According to her, it is “the most compassionate means of execution” because death by bear is still allowed in the county. Josh’s office in East Peck is located inside of a strange taxidermist’s office, but his legal team is even weirder.

The members include a well-meaning, eager investigator named Dwayne Reed (yes, like the drugstore chain), hilariously portrayed by Steven Boyer, as well as Anne Flatch (Sherri Shephard), who serves as his legal assistant/intern/head researcher. She wears many hats.

Anne also suffers from countless neurological disorders — she cannot recognize faces, she faints when she sees beautiful things (even the ugliest still life) and she also laughs hysterically at the worst of moments.

Truly, this show should not be nearly as funny as it is. It may sound like a typical sitcom that tries too hard to be comical, but “Trial & Error” is absolutely fantastic.

The show rides the popularity of actual murder mysteries, such as HBO’s “The Jinx” and the podcast “Serial” but turns the entire genre on its head, making the TV show into a mockumentary of Larry’s murder trial and Josh’s team of local misfits.

Lithgow is particularly fantastic in his role as an accused murderer, and his chemistry with the rest of the cast is highly entertaining. Although the writing and entire cast are incredible, Sherri Shephard is the one who ultimately steals the show with her comedic timing.

Another disease her character suffers from is foreign accent syndrome — Anne often picks up random accents after having been put under anesthesia. Every day is difficult for Anne, given her fainting spells, facial recognition problems and involuntary laughter in addition to her foreign accent syndrome.

Her facial blindness is so extreme that she labels the rest of the cast with name tags in all capital letters and goes as far to give the bear in the taxidermist’s office a label: BEAR, to ensure that there is no potential confusion whatsoever.

I myself am terrible at recognizing people out of context, but Anne is definitely worse-off than I am. However, her entire storyline is hysterical. Her character is somewhat minor at the beginning, but as the season progresses, she gets more and more screen time, which is excellent and well-deserved.

Her partnership with Dwayne Reed is spectacular, and the two of them in combination with bewildered, frustrated Josh is a sight to behold. If you need a new TV show to binge-watch, “Trial & Error” is one of the best new programs of 2017.

The show runs on NBC every Tuesday at 9 p.m. Previous episodes can be streamed online through Amazon and NBC’s website.

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Released in 2017, NBC’s “Trial & Error” is a quirky and brilliant sitcom. It films in a mockumentary format and stars Nicholas D’Agosto, John Lithgow, Sherri Shephard, Steven Boyer and Jayma Mays.