Is ‘Trial & Error’ the New ‘Parks & Rec’?

In NBC's new comedy, John Lithgow stars as poet and professor Larry Henderson, who's accused of murdering his wife Margaret when she dies after falling through a window.

click to enlarge Nicholas D’Agosto (left) and John Lithgow in 'Trial & Error' - Photo: Tyler Golden/NBC
Photo: Tyler Golden/NBC
Nicholas D’Agosto (left) and John Lithgow in 'Trial & Error'
Television audiences are constantly barraged with headlines about new shows that promise to fill the void of old or discontinued favorites: Parks and Recreation is the new OfficeGirls is the new Sex and the CityOrange Is the New Black (just kidding).

On one hand, certain shows definitely share similarities — some forget Parks and Rec was originally intended to serve as an Office spinoff — but often it’s a cop-out comparison. Nevertheless, I was drawn into new comedy Trial & Error (9 p.m. Tuesdays, NBC) in part thanks to its early connections to the much-missedParks

While it’s too soon to tell whether this workplace mockumentary has the legs to warrant such comparisons, it’s certainly a funny enough new offering worth checking out. 

John Lithgow stars as poet and professor Larry Henderson (shout out to Harry and the Hendersons), accused of murdering his wife Margaret when she dies after falling through a window. From Larry’s 911 call (which he puts on hold when his TV cable company buzzes in) through the trial, and every step in between, Larry can’t stop incriminating himself. Margaret’s Southern family enlists a good “Northeastern” lawyer (read: Jewish), and young Josh Segal (Nicholas D’Agosto) is sent from New York to South Carolina to take on the case — his first murder trial. The local investigation team tasked with defending Larry includes a disgraced cop and a dyslexic intern, who share an office building with a taxidermist.

Despite some annoyingly base Southerner jokes — the term “brother-cousin” is thrown about — the real humor comes from Larry’s genuine, naïve self-implication as he tries to clear his name, and from watching Josh try to manage it all.

Outside of the obvious mockumentary style in the vein of Parks and Recreation, Trial & Error similarly pokes fun at small-town bureaucracy. There are Arrested Development vibes, too — Josh’s “straight man” juggling a collection of over-the-top characters reminds me of Jason Bateman’s Michael Bluth. But one series that actually inspired Trial & Error is the 2004 French 8-hour television documentary The Staircase, about a North Carolina novelist, Michael Peterson, accused of killing his own wife. Notice some similarities? (Any fan of Making a Murderer or The Jinx should also check out The Staircase.)

Something that does separate Trial & Error from other comedies is, pending renewal, the show plans to follow an anthology format with a new case each season. So, maybe this column’s headline should be: “Is ‘Trial and Error’ the new ‘Serial’?” 

Picks of the Week:

Saturday Night Live (11:30 p.m. Saturday, NBC) – Louis C.K. hosts with musical guest The Chainsmokers.

The Son (Series Premiere, 9 p.m. Saturday, AMC) – Pierce Brosnan stars as Eli McCullough, a child who survives a Comanche attack in 1849, learns to live among the natives and goes on to lead his family’s cattle empire while pursuing an oil business in 1915.

Crashing (Season Finale, 10:30 p.m. Sunday, HBO) – Artie joins Pete at a baptism, where he gets schooled on religion. Meanwhile, Pete runs into Jess and questions his future in stand-up. It’s a comedy! Stay tuned for Season 2, likely to air in early 2018.

Better Call Saul (Season 3 Premiere, 10 p.m. Monday, AMC) – Chuck’s betrayal tests Jimmy and Kim’s new business (and romance), pressuring Jimmy like never before. Elsewhere, Mike searches to uncover the shadowy foe that knows way too much. Hint: He’s from the Breaking Bad universe and he certainly isn’t “chicken.” You might say he’s a little two-faced.

The Americans (10 p.m. Tuesday, FX) – Gabriel sends shockwaves when he reveals troublesome news about Philip’s past; Stan and Aderholt make moves; Oleg and Ruslan ambush a suspect.  


CONTACT JAC KERN: @jackern

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