• Worst TV Show of the Week: Trial & Error on NBC

    by  • March 16, 2017 • Broadcast Decency, NBC, Sex, Worst of the Week • 15 Comments

    This hateful, disgusting “mockumentary” mocks everything except its own pretentions.

    The “mockumentary” is a satirical form of comedy which uses straight-faced storytelling and the conventions of documentary in “reporting” increasingly far-fetched and ludicrous events. From the earliest popular example, the 1984 film This Is Spinal Tap, the form has grown in widespread popularity – first through Christopher Guest films like Best In Show, A Mighty Wind, and For Your Consideration, then through the dubious efforts of Sacha Baron Cohen, and so finally to TV, on programs like The Office and Parks and Recreation. And this week, the genre reached its nadir, with the March 14th series premiere of NBC’s Trial & Error (Tuesdays, 9:00 p.m. ET), the Worst TV Show of the Week.

    Supposedly a parody of true-crime documentaries like Making a Murderer and O.J. Simpson: Made in America, in fact Trial & Error is little more than an excuse for a barrage of bleeped language, explicit sex talk, and mean-spirited mockery (as opposed to light-hearted satire).

    The premise involves Larry Henderson, a college poetry instructor in East Peck, North Carolina, who is accused of murdering his wife. Larry’s brother-in-law hires a Josh Segal, a young New York attorney, to defend Larry, since no local lawyer will take the case. Unfortunately for Josh, the case quickly spirals out of control, with every bit of evidence he uncovers pointing to Larry as the murderer.

    No doubt, a truly talented writer could create a humorous satire around even so grisly a subject as spousal murder – but Trial & Error isn’t it. The program is too busy wallowing in crude sex references, mockery of the disabled, and vicious stereotypes to bother with anything as basic as humor.

    Nearly every character on the program is odious in one way or another – except for its lead (more about him later), and the secretary character, Anne. Apparently, the show’s creators think being mentally handicapped is the height of hilarity, as they heap disability after disability (all of them genuine) on the character. In addition to fainting at the sight of anything beautiful (Stendahl’s syndrome), Anne also suffers from involuntary emotional expression disorder (which causes her to laugh at inappropriate moments), dyslexia, and “facial amnesia” – which means she can’t identify anyone by looking at their face. Naturally, all these real-life disabilities are played for laughs…and with Hollywood’s usual obsession with sex, the last is even portrayed as an advantage, with Anne boasting, “With my husband, it’s like being with a different man every night. I do recognize penises, though.”

    When it’s revealed that Larry was carrying on an affair with his personal trainer (staunchly defended by the show, of course; what can be wrong with betraying your wife, after all?), Larry remarks, “Sexuality is fluid…and sometimes, my fluids flow toward men.” Larry’s “fluid” orientation quickly obscures the actual evidence pointing to his guilt, as the  prosecutor states, “All I know is he’s a known homosexual. Perhaps you ought to brush up on the laws of this county,” citing the “Buggery Act of 1789.” The sex-crazed prosceutor also repeatedly tries to seduce Josh, even inviting him, “You’re welcome to spend the night with me. You should know the Buggery Act is rarely enforced,” and later inviting him to “see my honey-pot.”

    Later, Josh calls in an expert forensic pathologist to check the crime scene; but, like Anne, the pathologist also suffers from a mental disorder – in his case, “self-stimulation” (an onscreen caption helpfully identifies him as a “compulsive masturbator”), who mixes up his own semen samples with those from the crime scene. And that’s just the first two episodes.

    And what does NBC rate this program, with its graphic references to sex, masturbation, and genitalia? TV-PG, appropriate for children as young as age seven. Of course.

    Naturally, the program also plays on the most tiresome and most bigoted stereotypes of the South. As presented in the program, every single individual living in North Carolina is an inbred, toothless, gun-toting,  anti-Semitic, homophobic, subliterate, hypocritcal moron – quite in contrast to the clean-cut, well-mannered, intelligent New Yorker Josh, the Only Sane (and Totally Flawless) Man in this cesspool of Southern bigotry.

    Unsurprisingly, The New York Times and the Los Angeles Times  both raved about the show’s hilarious hijinks. One suspects the praise would be rather more muted were similar vitriol directed against the allegedly enlightened denizens of Manhattan or Beverly Hills. But then, a program like that would never even be made.

    Ultimately, Trial & Error says more about the people (and the coastal culture) that produced it, than it does about the community it supposedly satirizes – just another sex-stuffed example of Hollywood’s arrogant, hate-filled bigotry against everyone in the nation who doesn’t share the obsession with sex and elitist assumptions so fashionable in Noo Yawk and El Lay.



    Christopher Gildemeister is the PTC’s Head of Research Operations. He began as an Entertainment Analyst at the PTC in 2005. From 2007-2016, he was Senior Writer/Editor, responsible for communicating the PTC’s message to the public through newsletters, columns, and the PTC Watchdog blog. Dr. Gildemeister holds a Ph.D. from The Catholic University of America.

    15 Responses to Worst TV Show of the Week: Trial & Error on NBC

    1. Lorrie Troncone
      April 18, 2017 at 8:32 pm

      I feel the same way all you people do. The show is sad .

    2. Lou
      March 29, 2017 at 6:14 pm

      I feel sad for John Lithgow cause he’s such a talented actor. What the HELL is he doing in this piece of…..

      • moax429
        March 31, 2017 at 6:21 pm


    3. Justin
      March 21, 2017 at 12:49 pm

      TV-PG, huh? It’s pretty clear what Hollywood’s intentions are…grooming kids for sexual content at an early age.

    4. Mark Myers
      March 20, 2017 at 11:42 pm

      It’s too bad that satan is taking all the joy out of our American lives and replacing it with empty pursuits of pleasure. It’s like drinking salt water. Every thirsty and ever drinking and only thirstier still, we are.

    5. Kay
      March 19, 2017 at 3:20 pm

      I love crime documentaries as well as mystery fiction, so I was intrigued with this by the previews. I watched it for 10 minutes, and found it annoying, disgusting, and just plain stupid. And when is Hollywood going to throw in the towel on the unoriginal, waaaaay overused interview format? I realize this was supposed to be as though they were being interviewed for a crime documentary, but it didn’t work. It was more like the Office.

    6. Peter
      March 17, 2017 at 8:26 pm

      This seems a perfect example of information we could use to submit a complaint to the FCC about.
      I want to take action, and can do so independentently, but as this message has probably gone to 1000′s of email addresses, is there some way PTC could turn this into an action alert with just the information a hundred or so people could use to submit FCC complaints. I’ve read lately that there is a possibility of some real change coming to FCC with regards to enforcement of broadcast indecency statutes.

      PTC staff or others, please feel free to reply. God bless yoU!

    7. March 17, 2017 at 5:23 pm

      I think that there is hardly any more good TV shows anymore on the regular network channels and I find it to be quite stupid. It is these programs that contain sex, nudity, vulgar language that ruins everything. And we got some people in Congress that supports this type of garbage. When I was growing up, we didn’t have sex or nudity in any of the TV programs. When it became noticeable in the mid 1990s, I complained to my congress person to get it stopped before it got out of hand. I don’t know the sponsors of this stupid show, but I would like to have a list so I can file a complaint against those who are supporting this garbage.

      • Lou
        March 29, 2017 at 6:13 pm

        I hear ya, That’s why the only channels I really watch are TRO TV and Game Show Network. Plus the ones that show classic stuff like ME TV and COZI TV.

    8. Cheryl Fendon
      March 17, 2017 at 3:25 pm

      Not rated accurately due to vulgarity, sex, etc
      Inappropriate content for minors

    9. MK
      March 17, 2017 at 3:22 pm

      If we do not know about these programs because we do not watch – how can we know which advertisers to contact to express our disgust and tell them we will not support their business or buy their products if they continue to sponsor such programs. It seems to be getting much worse instead of better with the programming we read about at Parents TV. We think that if more people were informed about the sponsors and the content of such shows, they would respond. Some just watch without thinking about the effect on children. Not just informing the already participants in PTV but through newspapers, media reports, etc. so that more people know about the content of programs. Ratings don’t seem to work.

    10. Francis Sigwart
      March 17, 2017 at 1:30 pm

      It’s trash like this that gives the media a bad name. Too many TV writers today don’t have the talent to be able to entertain audiences without the shock value of raunchy language or sexual inferences. That would take too much creativity. It’s a sad commentary.

    11. Nancy
      March 17, 2017 at 12:35 pm

      I saw previews for this and thought it looked pretty sleazy and after watching it, I was right! I had been watching the show on previously and it was on so I watched and to my dismay yes, there was a lab tech man w OCD- maturbating. What kind of crap are lowering ourselves to people?!! This is disgusting. Shame on NBC and every actor that is part of this lowlife nonsense.

    12. Janet Lalli
      March 17, 2017 at 12:21 pm

      Very sorry to read, but not too surprised. Based on the clips, I wanted to watch it, but my tolerance for things like what is described here is very low. But not as low as my husband’s. I probably would have become angry with him for not letting me watch it, so thank you for saving a dispute in our home.

      • March 17, 2017 at 4:48 pm

        Well, I do appreciate shows like The Waltons, The Joy of Music, and How It’s Made. Would you watch some of those shows instead? When The Waltons was created, there was no sex in any of the shows. Joy of Music is a good one since it features organist Diane Bish and she is very talented. How it’s Made may feature a bunch of machines, but I think it is very good.

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