There’s nothing new under the sun and NBC’s Trial & Error proves the old adage is true. The show follows Larry Henderson (played by John Lithgow) during his murder trial of his second wife. There is an ensemble of odd characters from East Peck, South Carolina that make Larry’s Lawyer’s job more difficult. As he tries his first murder case, Josh Segal finds out that it’s not as easy as it looks on TV. Like a bird that takes bits and pieces from different places to make their nest, Trial & Error scavenged bits of pop culture to create their first season. The hodgepodge of shows come together to tell the tale of a lovable man accused of murder.
30% is borrowed from The Office
Like the Dunder Mifflin “documentary”, Trial & Error relies heavily on footage shot through vertical blinds. Obscured camerawork isn’t the only similarity. Larry Henderson is a well-meaning man who is often problematic. He’s the Michael Scott of the show. Some of Larry’s lines seem like they have been filtered through Michael Scott’s brain. Speaking about his wife, Larry tries to explain how much she would hate the flowers at her grave. In the most Michael Scottian way he says, “She hated tulips. It went racism then tulips.” Josh Segal has perfected the can-you-believe this-guy stare into the camera. He’s the Jim Halpert of the show. Although he lacks the height and flippy hairdo, Segal and Halpert are both charismatic leads that people love to love.
30% is borrowed from Parks & Rec.
Pawnee and East Peck have a lot in common. Both locations have obscure festivals, quirky citizens and hometown pride in abundance. At one point, I quit being too snooty to enjoy the “GO PECKERS” peppered throughout Trial & Error. I think Leslie Knope would approve.
Also, every good Parks & Rec copy needs an Andy Dwyer. Dwayne Reed, the lead investigator in the murder, fills the part of lovable doofus nicely. Dwayne can do no right, but he means well and that’s enough to keep him around. For example, in Dwayne’s mind, a match of biblical proportions would be “Moses vs. Voldemort.” I’m forever grateful for this imagery and the introduction to a new lovable weirdo on TV.
10% is borrowed from all other Crime Shows
There are some parts of the show that seem like an homage to a grab bag of murder-centric entertainment. Larry states that his favorite show is How To Get Away With Murder. The Night of has its time in the spotlight. Making a Murderer is also referenced in the title card. The show’s producers are banking on the audience’s recognition and appreciation of the morbid Easter eggs in the show.
10% is borrowed from all the other syndicated TV shows
Let me be clear, the show isn’t the next The Office or Parks and Recreation. I don’t even think it’s even as good as The Good Place. There are parts of the show that are just as cheesy and painful as any run-of-the-mill syndicated TV show. From the beginning, it seemed painfully obvious that Jason Segal and Carol Anne Keane were going to get together. It was inevitable. Also, Sherri Shepherd’s character, Anne Flatch, is troublesome. Anne is the defense’s assistant. She’s “funny” because she has been diagnosed with obscure afflictions. Anne can’t recognize faces. She has to walk backwards. She laughs at inappropriate times. She faints at the sight of beauty. Anne’s only clear diagnosis is that her maladies are painful to the viewer. (I’m allergic to people who are too extra.)
10% is its own original thing
While the show borrows from many beloved shows, T&E creates it’s own space on the pop culture shelf. The Mur-der Board bit alone makes the show worth watching. The show takes dark subject matter, films it using the silliest of formats and uses a bunch of weirdos to tell the story. There is nothing new under the sun. Trial and Error is 30% The Office + 30% Parks and Recreation + 10% Mur-der Shows and 10% its own weird little original thing. And if you think my math is off, just know that I subscribe to the Dwayne Reed rules of Algebra where 8 x 8 =1,000.
(All you need to do is carry the two in your head.)