Hit or Sh**: NBC’s TRIAL AND ERROR

In this Crossfader series, our intricate and complex rating system will tell you definitively whether new television pilots are worth your valuable time. We call it: HIT OR SH**.

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The first taste that I got of TRIAL AND ERROR, NBC’s new MAKING A MURDERER mockumentary spoof, was not actually the pilot, but the sponsored Buzzfeed listicle “‘Trial & Error’ Is The New Comedy ‘Parks & Rec’ Fans Have Been Waiting For.” It is a truly insidious and cynical attempt to pander to the former sort-of-hit show’s audience, assuming that they will believe that these two shows are similar because they both feature nerdy but conventionally attractive white male leads, are set in small towns, and have a dog in them. However, it did provide the valuable insight in that it revealed that NBC expects TRIAL AND ERROR to fill in the void left by its twin Michael Schur mockumentary titans, THE OFFICE and PARKS AND RECREATION—mockumentary-style comedies that capture the attention of white upper-middle class youth.

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John Lithgow, Apparently a Millennial Icon

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Is it successful? Not now, but it could be eventually. TRIAL AND ERROR has moments where it is legitimately reminiscent of OFFICE/PARKS. In the first few slightly uneven episodes, there are moments where it shows a lot of potential for a very PARKS-esque combination of emotional heft and GIF-friendly dialogue, as well as some solid (if not yet spectacular) comic performances. However, it’s hard to imagine TRIAL AND ERROR’s cast, who are the element of the show most heavily leaned upon, standing up to the casts of THE OFFICE and PARKS, which are both among the greatest in TV history. It’s also doubtful that Nicholas D’Agosto, an okay-but-not-great comic actor billed as “the lead in Final Destination 5” on Wikipedia, is going to be able to anchor this cast in the way Steve Carell and Amy Poehler anchored theirs.

D’Agosto is surrounded with some recognizable faces, including John Lithgow, Jayma Mays, and 30 ROCK scene-stealer Sherri Shepherd. Lithgow’s role as accused wife murderer Larry Henderson (which had BETTER be a reference to HARRY AND THE HENDERSONS, dammit) initially feels almost identical to his role as Dick Solomon on 3RD ROCK FROM THE SUN, but he is the initial cast standout, providing a consistent source of laughs as well as an emotional tether for the show. Mays and, disappointingly, Shepherd, seem out of their depth in their respective roles, while lesser known cast members Steven Boyer and Krysta Rodriguez aren’t particularly memorable.

This probably isn’t entirely the performers’ fault, though. These characters are, right now, incredibly one-dimensional. TRIAL AND ERROR leans far too heavily on each character’s individual “quirks” for comedy to start with, rather than allowing each character’s personality to blossom organically, and those quirks quickly become more irritating than funny or endearing. It initially feels like we’re watching a bunch of walking checklists of character traits instead of people. This is discouraging because the individual humanity found in even the most minor characters was what made Michael Schur’s work for NBC so entertaining and vital—we got to know, and to love, each character as individual people, rather than the SNL-style one-sided kooks that TRIAL AND ERROR wants us to like.

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“Walking checklist,” in this instance, isn’t even that much of an exaggeration

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Let’s not forget, though, that few would say that PARKS or THE OFFICE worked right off the bat, because they didn’t. Like TRIAL AND ERROR, they tried a little too hard at first to be things that they weren’t. TRIAL AND ERROR, despite what NBC’s marketing team may want you to believe, is not PARKS AND RECREATION. It has some similarities, but TRIAL is offering us a potent murder-mystery plot arc, and is setting itself up to explore our ability to have empathy for someone who could have done something incredibly evil. If handled correctly, I believe this show could be NBC’s most effective mixture of comedy and drama since SCRUBS. TRIAL AND ERROR is wading into uncharted waters without the presence of a sure-fire star like Poehler or an all-star showrunner like Michael Schur, and though it demonstrates potential in several areas, it’s too early to give a vote of confidence to the show’s ability to address its issues.

Verdict: Sh** Probation

TRIAL AND ERROR airs on Tuesdays on NBC

Adam Cash

Adam Cash lives in the woods and grew up playing music in barns with other strange woods children. Fortunately, moving to California showed him that the rest of the world largely ignores Toby Keith, and thus, life is worth living. Adam also writes about video games on Top Shelf Gaming.

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