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.