Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Trial & Error: First Two Episodes (Good Session, Wanrer Bros., NBC-TV, 2017)

by Mark Gabrish Conlan • Copyright © 2017 by Mark Gabrish Conlan • All rights reserved

I watched the hour-long series premiere (actually two half-hour episodes shown back-to-back) of Trial & Error, a “comedy” from writers Jeff Astrof and Michael Miller produced through Good Session and Warner Bros. that, like a lot of other frustrating shows these days, took a potentially good premise — a spoof of legal shows and “trial-of-the-century” case coverage — and ran it into the ground. The gimmick is that greenhorn attorney Josh Segal (Nicholas D’Agosto) is sent to East Pike, North Carolina to represent poetry professor Larry Henderson (John Lithgow, vainly trying to bring some dignity to the proceedings despite the preposterous things Astrof and Miller make his character do), who’s being accused of murdering his wife by pushing her through a plate-glass window. Segal is a junior assistant at a big law firm that’s been retained by the late wife’s parents — until they suddenly cut off their funding once Larry is revealed to have been cheating on his late wife, and (horrors!) doing so with a man, his physical trainer. Apparently the writers intended this as a parody of the real-life case dramatized in The Staircase Murders, in which popular military novelist Michael Peterson was accused of beating his wife to death with a fireplace poker; like Lithgow’s character here, Peterson also turned out to be Bisexual and his previous wife had died under similarly suspicious circumstances, leading prosecutors to believe that he knocked off both women.

Trial & Error could have been a very funny show if Astrof and Miller had kept closer to their models and if they could have avoided the raunchy sex jokes — the forensic pathologist Segal retains is a compulsive masturbator (we’re shown this when he starts emitting orgasmic moans while standing in a hallway in Henderson’s home and then quickly rushes into a bathroom so he won’t cream in his pants) and his Black assistant, who works for him from his office next to a taxidermy shop (which is also the shop’s overflow room, so Segal is spooked by the constant sight of stuffed animals), has a weird catalog of the craziest mental illnesses and phobias Astrof and Miller could insert or invent. (Some of them, like dyslexia, are real; others, like her habit of fainting whenever she sees a nice piece of art, are harder to believe.) The nice things about this show are the fact that Segal and his principal investigator, a former East Pike cop named Dwayne (Steven Boyer), are both played by quite nice-looking actors — indeed, this old queen wanted to see them get it on (Boyer looks like his face lost an argument with a meat grinder but he’s got a great bod and the lumberjack shirts and skin-tight blue jeans he’s encased in by costumer Zora Dakir show it off nicely) — and Lithgow, like the cool old professional he is, acquits himself well even though he’s obliged to play a character whose principal avocation is roller-skating — oops, roller-cizing (he makes a big deal out of the difference) — and who’s clearly more broken up about the loss of his skate wrench (a supposedly irreplaceable one made in Germany) than the death of his wife. I had high hopes for Trial & Error and most of them were dashed — though there were good moments, including the prosecutor turning out to be a hot young blonde woman who virtually orders Segal to have sex with her even though they’re on opposite sides of the case (hey, what’s a little conflict of interest when lust is involved?), and the quirky daughter Larry adopted, Carol Anne Keane (Jayma Mays, who proves that “perky” is still a quality found in young actresses), who becomes a possible love interest for Segal as well as a source of information for him on the case. But too much of the “humor” is either unpleasantly raunchy or forced, and quite frankly Jerry Orbach’s line on a Law and Order rerun I also watched last night (a crazy Black defendant has just been arrested, the cops ask him his name, he says Regis Philbin and Orbach dead-pans, “Is that your final answer?”) was funnier that both debut episodes of Trial & Error.