Every time you start to get annoyed at NBC’s new sitcom Trial & Error, you think how much the creators obviously love the immortal film My Cousin Vinny and you back off.
Trial & Error, which premieres Tuesday at 10 p.m. ET with back-to-back episodes, aims to be a different kind of sitcom, and in that it largely succeeds.
It revolves around a young New York lawyer thrown into a zany murder case in South Carolina.
Nicholas D’Agosto (left) plays New Yorker Josh Segal, a decent chap whose näiveté, inexperience and blind spots make him vulnerable to every banana peel on which a rookie can slip in the legal business – especially a rookie from New York in the rural Good Old Boy South.
Perhaps because it’s a sitcom, Josh only hits banana peels, not potholes. Despite revolving around a murder case, Trial & Error goes all-in for absurdity, slapstick, and general silliness, often playing like a hybrid among Saturday Night Live sketches, This Is Spinal Tap, Reno 911 and, yes, My Cousin Vinny.
The show is also framed differently from your standard sitcom. It’s more like a mashup of reality shows and mockumentaries, with short quasi-serious monologues from the actors.
The actors from time-to-time look directly into the camera, as if to say hello and acknowledge that yes, they know where they are.
They’re in a long comic drama broken into weekly episodes and then further broken up by commercials.
In the opening drama, John Lithgow (top) is the other focal point as Josh’s client, Larry Henderson.
Larry seems to be a decent fellow, too, though he’s accused of murdering his second wife. She died the same way as his first wife, plunging through a plate-glass window.
Larry seems curiously uncurious about what actually happened to her, beyond casually assuring Josh he didn’t do it.
Accordingly, Larry is no help at all in preparing his defense, which leaves it up to Josh and two local helpers imported directly from the “oddball sitcom supporting characters” catalog.
Sherri Shepherd plays Anne Flatch, who couldn’t be more eager to help, but brings a couple of drawbacks to the table. For one thing, she has a disorder that prevents her from remembering faces. She also has a disorder wherein she faints every time she sees something she considers beautiful, like the kind of still life fruit paintings you see on the walls of budget motels.
Equally eager and equally problematic is Dwayne (Steven Boyer, above, left, with lawyer sign), who fancies himself an investigator because he used to be a cop before a momentary lapse in judgment led to an ill-advised shooting incident.
Lithgow does a lovely job of creating a character whose biggest concern often seems to be making the rest of the world understand that what he does is “rollercise,” not “roller skating.”
Creating Larry must have been a nice interlude for Lithgow, a chance to just have some fun. The same goes for Shepherd and for Jayma Mays, who plays Carol Anne Keane. Carol is the prosecuting attorney by day and apparently an aspiring nymphomaniac by night.
It’s tougher for D’Agosto, who aside from a mild streak of self-absorption, largely plays straight man to the rest of the cast.
Well, except for Larry’s daughter Summer (Krysta Rodriguez, top, with Lithgow), whose absurdity quotient is relatively low.
For the most part, Trial & Error stays zany and flighty, often in an endearing way.
The thing about My Cousin Vinny, though, was that even while Vinny kept hitting the banana peels, we really wanted him to get up and win.
The question with Trial & Error may be whether, at the end of the day, the story means any more to us than it does to Larry.