Monday, March 13, 2017

NBC Mid-Season Pilot Review: Trial & Error - Premieres Tuesday (March 14); CBS Makes Schedule Change, While CW Orders Season 5 of The 100

Trial & Error
Trial & Error - Tuesdays at 9:00PM ET/PT on FOX
Premieres Tuesday, March 14, 2017 at 10:00PM ET/PT


by Skees

Poetry professor Larry Henderson's wife has just been murdered by being tossed outside of a window, and he is the prime suspect. But did he do it? He couldn't have done it. John Lithgow stars in Trial & Error, NBC's newest series, where he is arrested and charged with the death of his late wife. If you get to know him, you learn that there is no way that he is the type of person who could be a murderer... but then all of this evidence that says otherwise keeps falling into place. It's going to take a solid team of a high priced attorney (a northeastern one!) and his team to find him not guilty against an overzealous prosecutor who "knows" he is guilty, and is willing to make a plea bargain to let him choose the method by which he'll be executed.

Cast Details:

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 Reed
Krysta Rodriguez as Summer Henderson

Nick D'Agosto (Josh Simon) is best known for his recurring roles in Masters of Sex and Gotham. Additionally, he has appeared in ER, Boston Public, Cold Case, Without a Trace, and The Office, among other series.

John Lithgow (Larry Henderson) is an award winning actor who has found success on stage, the big screen, and the small screen. One of his first roles on Broadway, as a supporting actor in The Changing Room, ended with him earning a Tony Award. He has had film roles in Twilight Zone: The Movie, All That Jazz, Footloose, Harry and the Hendersons, The Manhattan Project, and many others. On television, of course, his best known role was 3rd Rock from the Sun.

Sherri Shepherd (Anne Flatch) is an actress, comedian, and talk show host who is probably best known for her role on ABC's The View. But this is far from her first time appearing in a sitcom, as she previously appeared in Less Than Perfect and the final season of Suddenly Susan, and had recurring roles on other series, such as Everybody Loves Raymond. She also briefly had her own sitcom, Sherri.

Jayma Mays (Carol Anne Keane) found her success in playing Emma Pillsbury on Glee. She has also appeared in Heroes and was among the regular cast on the CBS series The Millers.

Steven Boyer (Dwayne Reed) has mostly been a Broadway actor, but he has also been appearing on series for over a decade, beginning with a 2004 guest role in Ed. He has also appeared in Louie, Orange is the New Black, and Mom.

Krysta Rodriguez (Summer Henderson) is an actress and singer who has sort of a sitcom connection, having played Wednesday Addams in the Broadway musical, The Addams Family. On television, she has appeared in Gossip Girl, Smash, and even appeared in the pilot that was never picked up for How I Met Your Dad.


Pilot Plot:

"A Big Crime in a Small Town" (Airs March 14 at 10:00PM ET)

The pilot begins in a small town in South Carolina, where Professor Larry Henderson's wife has died at his home. And given that her death came after falling out of a window, foul play is suspected. Specifically, it is suspected that Larry killed his own wife. His brother-in-law, a wealthy tobacco baron, believes that there is no way that Larry killed her, and puts all of his resources together to hire a "northeastern" (he sort of admits that what he means is "Jewish") attorney to put together a team to prove his innocence. Before the big attorney comes in, though, attorney Josh Segal (Nick D'Agosto) arrives on the scene for preliminary hearings and nothing more. But when the first piece of incriminating evidence comes out against Larry, plans start to change for everybody.


"A Wrench in the Case" (Airs March 14 at 10:30PM ET)

In the second episode of the series, Josh continues to work hard (though without the financial support he arrived on) to help Larry prove his innocence. But as always, there are many wrenches in the case, specifically a skate wrench. While facing serious murder charges, Larry is more concerned about a missing skate wrench than he is about his own wife and charges, and the obsession is certainly not helping his case.



Analysis:

Honestly, aside from John Lithgow, who has proven himself to be a quality sitcom star in the past with 3rd Rock from the Sun, I kind of expected this series to be a dud. But in watching the first four episodes of it, I was pleasantly surprised. As it turns out, it is actually a bizarre and somewhat quirky comedy. It was pretty clear from the previews that Lithgow's character of Larry Henderson (side note: it's interesting that his last name is Henderson, given his role in Harry and the Hendersons) was going to be a quirky character, and that didn't seem like quite enough. But as it turns out, pretty much every character on the show has some serious flaws. Sherri Shepherd's character, Anne Flatch, deals with a number of obscure disorders that tend to always cause problems as the case progresses. I feel it is worth pointing out here that this really is one of the best roles I've seen for Shepherd. It isn't the first time that she has appeared in a sitcom, but this is finally a role that fits for her. Steven Boyer's character, Dwayne Reed (he fantasizes about visiting this place in New York that bears his name), is a very inept investigator who just keeps making things worse than they were in the first place. And Jayma Mays' character, prosecutor Carol Anne Keane, is refreshing, as it portrays the prosecutor as being the opportunistic attorney who's willing to do anything at any cost to achieve her goal of becoming the chief prosecutor... although this may be a little more extreme than in the real world, as her only goal is to figure out a way to get Larry Henderson executed by any means necessary, with little regard to ethics.

What I really like about the series, though, is that it sort of keeps us in mystery. In watching it, I didn't initially think Larry killed his wife. But much like those Dateline NBC true crime stories with Keith Morrison, there is always something happening in this series that plants doubt in your mind. And they're very careful, perhaps due to the mockumentary style of the series, to not lead you in telling you exactly what happened. It's not clear that anybody truly knows, for that matter.

It's important to point out that the series is really a serial series, in that you can't just sit down and pick an episode and enjoy it. You really do need to watch the episodes in order, beginning with the first episode, to follow the story line and understand what is going on. It's not exactly impossible to jump in on one and find things funny, but it seems like it would be challenging to fully understand what is going on otherwise. Which leads to another point: the serial nature also makes the viewer curious as to what will happen next, and leads one to want to binge watch the episodes rather than having to wait to see what comes next. That would make it a more natural show for a streaming service like Netflix, but is sort of problematic for linear networks like NBC, where you'll have to wait a week between pairs of episodes (though all six of them, most likely the entire first season, are scheduled to air over the next three weeks).

One problem with the series, though, is that it is centered around this one murder case. It's a good story line, but if the series survives, eventually Larry Henderson is going to have to go to trial and be found guilty or not guilty. It's not quite clear where the series would go from there, but unless the writers are really creative, it seems pretty obvious that he'll need to be found guilty of the murder for the series to have any future (and then the case would have to go to appeals), because otherwise the series would have to be retooled into something very different. And when series get retooled, it rarely works out for the best.

One more thing to point out that is sort of an aside: the second episode featured a few very brief appearances from Marla Gibbs, who plays one of Larry's neighbors. It's great to see Marla Gibbs is still continuing to make appearances on TV shows rather regularly, and if this show manages to survive past the first six episodes, I'd love to see at least a little more of her. Being the neighbor could potentially make her a good witness in the case, especially for the prosecution.


Conclusion:

Who knew that a comedy series about a man who is accused of murdering his wife could actually be funny? I like the series, but considering that it is not exactly a traditional sitcom and seeing how NBC seems to be eager to burn off six episodes (likely the entire first season) within three weeks, it's unclear what sort of future this series could have. This is definitely another one of those series that probably would have worked better on Netflix or Amazon Prime, but it's happening on NBC, so they'll just have to make the best of it. I hope that they can. If not, these six episodes make a nice short series to enjoy for the time being.


Final Numbers (out of 5 stars):

Watchability: 4/5
Funniness: 4/5
Overall: 4/5

Discuss the show after you watch it on Tuesday, March 14, 2017 at 10:00PM ET/PT on our message board.

Related Links:

  • NBC.com Official Site
  • TV.com
  • epguides.com
  • Internet Movie Database
  • Wikipedia
  • Trial & Error Photo Gallery



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