Trial & Error
TV Series Review
Larry Henderson absolutely, positively, definitely killed his wife.
Unless, y'know, he didn't.
Oh, sure, the evidence doesn't look all that promising. Larry was home, waiting for the cable guy, when wife Margaret was thrown through a glass window at the house. Those were his roller skate wheels that rolled through Margaret's blood, leaving fresh red tracks around her body. When the police arrived, he did seem just as despondent over the no-show cable guy as he was over his wife's murder.
Oh, and I probably should mention that before all this he was having an extramarital fling with his male fitness trainer.
"I was having sex outside of marriage," he says. "I'd hardly call that an affair."
Of course, there's also the little matter of Larry's first wife, who just happened to die after …. um, crashing through a plate glass window.
But Larry insists he's innocent, and that's good enough for lawyer Josh Simon. After all, the burden of proof rests with the prosecution, not the defense. Carol Anne Keane, the ambitious prosecuting attorney, has to show beyond a reasonable doubt that Larry's guilty. And if there's anything Josh has learned in his short time in East Peck, S.C., it's that this whole case is about as unreasonable as it gets.
Order in This Court?
To defend Larry, Josh has assembled the best legal team East Peck has to offer—which, admittedly, isn't much. Investigator Dwayne Reed was kicked off the police force after he plugged his own police cruiser with several bullets. (He thought it was being stolen, but in reality he'd just forgotten to put on the parking brake.) And Josh's assistant, Anne Flatch, has so many strange psychological ailments that she could fill a whole psych ward by herself.
It doesn't help that Carol Anne is gunning to become district attorney and, in order to prove her tough-on-crime bona fides, she's gunning to put Larry to death. For her, it's just a question as to whether she'll settle for execution via electrocution or go for the gusto and insist on death by bear.
But Josh is sure that his client is innocent, and that means something, right?
Thrown Out on Technicality
NBC's Trial & Error spoofs the barrage of true crime narratives we've seen lately in entertainment, ranging from the Serial podcast to Netflix's Making a Murderer docu-miniseries. Indeed, NBC allegedly loosely based this wacky sitcom off The Staircase, a true-crime miniseries that aired in France in 2004.
Our shared cultural fascination with watching real-life murder investigations spool out for entertainment is, arguably, troubling in its own right. So perhaps we should be relieved that the problems with Trial & Error aren't nearly so subtle.
Trial & Error, can be funny, no question. Anchored by John Lithgow as the daffy accused, the show feels a bit like NBC's late, little-watched-but-much-loved Community trapped in an American Crime-like saga.
But the show does dive into some unseemly places.
As we've already mentioned, Larry's either gay or bisexual, and his sexual proclivities are an important part of both the prosecution's case and the show itself. Moreover, just the mere fact that we mention Larry's amorous preferences in this review would mark it—and presumably those of you for whom these sorts of things are important—as in league with what the show views as East Peck's backward, conservative mindset.
Sexual dalliances, though, aren't restricted to Larry. The show, while not perhaps obsessed with sex, is definitely preoccupied with it. Carol Anne is determined to seduce Josh (and not above using suggestive, crass language to do so). Josh's obsessive-compulsive forensics investigator engages in acts of "self-stimulation" whenever the work environment grows too stressful, sending him scurrying to a nearby bathroom whenever something critical happens. And so on.
Violence is rarely a problem in most sitcoms, and Trial & Error doesn't feature a lot of explicit, on-screen mayhem. But an act of violence is critical to the show's whole setup, and it's not uncommon to see pictures or videos of bloody crime scenes. And while the show's language rarely goes beyond the occasional "h---" or "d--n" explicitly, Trial & Error's documentary conceit allows for a whole bunch of suggestive bleeps, many of which obviously conceal f- and s-words.
NBC's sitcom has earned some praise from secular critics, and I get that. But when it comes to family viewing, Trial & Error feels like one long trial and a whole lot of error.
Crude or Profane Language
Drug and Alcohol Content
Other Negative Elements
Other Belief Systems
Readability Age Range
Nick D'Agosto as Josh Simon; John Lithgow as Larry Henderson; Sherri Shepherd as Anne Flatch; Jayma Mays as Carol Anne Keane; Steven Boyer as Dwayne; Krysta Rodriguez as Summer Henderson