TV Review - Trial & Error

Ever since NBC's hit series The Office filled the void that was left by Friends, NBC seems hellbent to constantly recreate that show's success and particularly its style or format. Parks and Recreation was its first stab. This series is its next stab at a faux documentary or mockumentary. Parks and Recreation was NBC's successor to The Office and now this series is the successor to that Amy Poehler led comedy. However, the premise of Poehler's show was more favorable to the mockumentary gimmick. This series is not.

Given the popularity of things like Making a Murderer, a parody of true-crime or legal nonfiction was bound to happen. Going back to HBO's Paradise Lost, this show could be a satire of something like that, but the mockumentary aspects just feel like a tired gimmick at this point. What overcomes that tired gimmick are great performances and extreme or warm characters with relationships to ground it. Poehler's character and her relationship with Nick Offerman's character was that grounding and anchor in Parks and Recreation.

Nicholas D'Agosto (Masters of Sex and Gotham) stars as Josh Segal, a junior defense attorney from New York who goes to a small town called East Peck to represent a man accused of killing his wife. He seems ambitious at first but he's just overly eager. He gets frustrated as he is the only straight man surrounded by very quirky and quite frankly bizarre people, but he's optimistic and doesn't give up despite the odds.

John Lithgow (3rd Rock from the Sun and Dexter) co-stars as Larry Henderson, a professor at a community college who is Josh's client. He's the one who people think murdered his spouse. He denies it, but every episode something incriminating arises against him. The first is that Larry has a gay lover. Yet, he says his wife knew about it and was fine with it. He's a bit of an oddball who has no self-awareness about how odd he is and that he has no filters. He'll say whatever is on his mind no matter how guilty it makes him look.

Paired with Josh who is trying to do all he can to make Larry not look guilty, it makes for an interesting, comedic relationship. While Josh might soon just give up as Larry can't help but undermine his case, there is an emotional aspect where Larry shows a love or at least a trust of Josh that he perhaps never had before. Josh sees Larry's heart and spirit as pure and Josh bonds to Larry like a son to a father, or just an unlikely friend.

It's this bonding that grounds or anchors the series much in the way the Poehler-Offerman relationship did in Parks and Recreation. D'Agosto and Lithgow are just as good in their roles. Both are great actors. Narrative-wise, their bond is a bit rushed only because this series isn't meant to go as long as Parks and Recreation. Poehler and Offerman had more time, seven seasons, to establish their rapport. This series doesn't have nearly that amount of time. D'Agosto and Lithgow sell it rather well, but still.

Jayma Mays (Glee) plays Carol Anne Keane, the assistant district attorney who is very strong, confident and cut-throat. She seems to believe wholeheartedly that Larry is guilty and will do anything to convict him. She's unapologetic about it. She is also well-connected and well-versed in the culture of the small town. She also makes it clear she's single and plays with the sexual tension between herself and Josh.

Sherri Shepherd (The View and Less Than Perfect) plays Anne Flatch, the head researcher and secretary to Josh's makeshift law office in East Peck next to a taxidermist. She suffers from a multitude of disorders, including facial amnesia, dyslexia, inappropriate laughter at horror and Stendahl's Syndrome. A lot of her disorders are psychosomatic and are probably not listed in the official DSM but are great for comedic effect. She also seems to name a new disorder she has every episode, but she is determined not to be a burden to Josh but an asset. If this were Parks and Recreation, Anne would be the equivalent to Jim O'Heir's character.

Steven Boyer plays Dwayne Reed, an investigator and assistant to Josh. The joke about his name would have been funnier if it already hadn't been made in HBO's The Night Of. Otherwise, he's the equivalent to Chris Pratt's character of Andy Dwyer. He's a hick, an idiot but he's a sweetheart.

Krysta Rodriguez plays Summer Henderson, the daughter of the defendant. She's the equivalent to Aubrey Plaza's character from Parks and Recreation.

The void of Parks and Recreation has been great, but his series steps into its shoes quite well and certainly satisfies. It picks up tonally right where the Poehler comedy left off. The writers have been quite clever on how it's doling out the murder mystery, revealing and removing suspects, and it doesn't bore with its wrangling of the legal system, going back-and-forth between Josh and Carol Anne.

Rated TV-PG-DL.
Running Time: 30 mins.
Tuesdays at 9PM on NBC.


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