Second season of NBC sitcom 'Trial & Error' premieres July 19
NEW YORK (CNS) -- Excessive raunchiness undermines the appealing goofiness at the core of the uneven comedy "Trial & Error."
The NBC limited series begins its second short season with two consecutive half-hour episodes Thursday, July 19, 9-10 p.m. EDT. Back-to-back installments of "Trial and Error" will air in that time slot for five weeks, concluding Thursday, Aug. 16.
Created by Jeff Astrof ("The New Adventures of Old Christine") and Matt Miller ("Forever"), "Trial & Error" is a sendup of true-crime documentaries -- to the mocking of which it brings broad, silly humor reminiscent of the "Airplane" movies of the 1980s.
Current episodes of "Trial & Error" occasionally refer back to the first season, including one allusion to John Lithgow, who played accused murderer -- and eccentric poetry professor -- Larry Henderson. But newcomers are unlikely to get lost in series' setting: the fictitious East Peck, South Carolina.
In a case of pitch-perfect casting, the talented, diminutive actress and singer Kristin Chenoweth plays Lavinia Peck-Foster, the heiress of the family for whom the quirky small town is named. As pixilated as Henderson, she's flamboyant, self-absorbed, materialistic -- and as obsessed with fashion as she is with good manners.
But when the rural hamlet's "beloved first lady's" supposedly beloved husband's corpse is found stuffed into a suitcase in the trunk of her car during a routine traffic stop, Lavinia turns to attorney Josh Segal (Nicholas D'Agosto), who also represented Henderson, to defend her against the resulting murder charge.
Lavinia makes a sympathetic defendant, but she also knows how to curry favor. At one point, she distributes fashionable scarves to everyone in the courtroom because she isn't, she says, "on trial for murdering etiquette."
Segal is a transplanted New Yorker who nonetheless has embraced East Peck life -- a kind of latter-day Oliver Wendell Douglas from "Green Acres." And he believes he has assembled the "best legal team in a working taxidermy office."
Former cop and lead investigator Dwayne Reed (Steven Boyer) is crude, venial and, like Mayberry's Barney Fife, prone to having his gun go off accidentally. Sherri Shepherd plays research assistant Anne Flatch with a sunniness that belies her character's numerous and unusual maladies.
These include the Jumping Frenchman of Maine ailment, which compels people to "jump to extreme heights when startled." "It's very common," Flatch confides to the audience, "if you're a Frenchman and from Maine."
Her hyper-acoustic sense also powers Flatch with "random dog level hearing," which enables her to interpret trial judge Kamiltow's (Joel McCrary) words for Segal. In a gag purloined from "Seinfeld," the judge is a low talker understood perfectly by the locals, but not by outsiders.
His inability to comprehend the judge naturally hinders Segal's defense. His complicated relationship with Assistant District Attorney Carol Anne Keane (Jayma Mays) also threatens to harm his effort to free Lavinia. He may be the father of the expectant attorney's child, and the couple sends mixed signals about how to handle the situation and what's best for the unborn child.
The show's disconcertingly flippant attitude toward such a serious subject is just one red flag for viewers. "Trial and Error" also contains some comic violence, digitally altered nudity and an obscene gesture. Double entendres, many playing on the town's name, also abound -- as does gratuitous profanity.
Although the words themselves are bleeped, the audience knows what's being said. The show thus pushes the limits of good taste and decency, and, as such, it can't be recommended for youngsters or for adults with a low tolerance for edgy elements.
In fact, the series' prevalent vulgarity becomes increasingly juvenile and tiresome, detracting from some authentically -- and memorably -- funny lines and concepts. Speaking of the owner of the local auction house, Eric Baymore, and referring to his nickname, for instance, Reed says, "I don't think E. Bay has a web site." Along the same lines, the town has two time zones: East Peck and North Peck, which is west of East Peck.
At its best, "Trial & Error" sporadically demonstrates that it's a cut above other comedies. But, more often than not, it exploits the worst of our banal culture and aims for lowest-common-denominator laughs.
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Byrd is a guest reviewer for Catholic News Service.