It's about time that crime documentaries got the silly sitcom spoof.
NBC's Trial & Error takes inspiration from murder mysteries such as Netflix's Making a Murderer and HBO's The Jinx for its newest goofy mockumentary. And Error is not unlike the network's previous workplace comedy hits The Office and Parks & Recreation. And, as with those shows, it'll need time to marinate all the zany characters and their quirks.
First, there's Larry Henderson (John Lithgow). He's a poetry professor in an absurd South Carolina town (much like Pawnee, Ind., in Parks), who is accused of killing his second wife, and he doesn't seem as concerned as he should be. He's a lovable idiot whose nitwit defense team sure have their work cut out for them.
It's the first homicide case for "Northeastern" (the show's code for Jewish) lawyer Josh (Nicholas D'Agosto, Gotham). He is Error's Jim Halpert (The Office's John Krasinski): the "normal" guy with boyish good looks whose glances at the camera will charm your heart.
Working in a taxidermy office, the two others on the case are Dwayne Reed (Steven Boyer), and his secretary, Anne Flatch (Sherri Shepherd). Most of the belly laughs come from Shepherd's character, who has lots of strange ailments, including a facial recognition problem and involuntary emotional expression disorder.
And you can't have a workplace comedy without some sexual tension. Here it comes from the fierce assistant district attorney Carol Anne Keane (Jayma Mays, Glee), whose off-the-wall advances on Josh keep getting better.
But Error always falls back on Lithgow's delightfully wacky performance. Larry is self-absorbed and an obsessive rollerciser (not rollerskater). Lithgow, coming off his Emmy-winning performance as Winston Churchill on Netflix's lavish period drama The Crown, played a killer before, on Dexter's best season. Larry might be a doofus, but Lithgow plays him with so much heart that we hope he didn't actually kill his wife, or his first wife for that matter, who just happened to die exactly the same way.
To become a long-running sitcom (like Lithgow's other heartwarming and weird show 3rd Rock From the Sun) — the plan is to debut a new case every season — Trial & Error might need to slow down the buffoonery. But for now, Error works because of its well-timed jokes, insightful wit and the actors' commitment to these oddball characters, if you can keep up.
Contact Brittany Volk at email@example.com. Follow @bevolk.