Episode Review: Trial & Error Ponders: To Plea or Not to Plea

In the most recent pair of Trial & Error episodes, the show followed the same pattern as it did in the second week, where the earlier episode (starting at 9:00) largely functioned to set up the later one (starting, believe it or not, at 9:30). As with the second week, the same strategy worked well in this, the fourth week of the series.

The first big development in Episode 5 is that Josh’s boss, Howard Mankiewicz (played by character actor Fred Melamed), stops by for what is supposed to be a flying visit, on his way back from attending some business in Atlanta. As with the other lawyer from Josh’s New York firm, the first impression we get of the big boss is that all is hunky dory, and perhaps that would have remained the case had the boss’ visit actually been as brief as Josh had expected. Unfortunately, like that cheese plate you ordered for your party that left too much behind, the item became less pleasant to have around as time dragged on. By the end of the episode, Josh is treated to the cheese at its smelliest, so to speak.

Another important function of that episode is the unveiling of the supposedly no-show cable guy as a prime suspect, first uncovered by Mankiewicz, then explored with ever increasing anxiety by Josh. Now mind you, I do not like to engage in spoilage, but I will slop this one pearl: by the end of the night, Josh discovers that if he were to compare the cable guy to a herring, the color of the fish would not be blue. Hai Capit’?

It is in the next episode that Mankiewicz reveals the full extent of his troublemaking. He insists that Larry Henderson plead not guilty by reason of insanity. Certainly, considering John Lithgow’s bemused performance so far, coupled by the zany writing for his character, that would not be much of a stretch. Josh is dead set against the idea, while both Larry and his daughter Summer (who had turned against her father in the fourth episode for a couple of not-so-little lies he had told her, but then turned back when she discovered there are lies all around) remain ambivalent, going back and forth between the nut house and possible execution.

Oh, by the way, just a small note on the prospect of said execution: prosecutor Carol Anne Keane’s version of a plea deal had been to offer Larry the electric chair, as a far more merciful way to die than to be eaten alive by a bear.

Surprisingly, it is the usually clueless Anne who discovers something about rogue cop Rutger Hiss (still in a coma) that gives Josh just enough to make a strong argument to Larry about why he should go through with the trial. Strong, but maybe not the clincher. It seems Larry has visited the asylum and found the place somewhat to his liking. How will he plead? You will know that if you saw the two episodes or find it out if you get caught up, which you really should.

I noted from the show’s IMDb page that it has received favorable reviews from The New York Times, The Washington Post, USA Today and Variety, but its ratings are not going in the right direction. Had this been an ABC comedy, the axe almost certainly would have fallen. I can only hope that the more patient NBC executives will give Trial & Error the same kind of forbearance they showed toward Cheers, Seinfeld and 30 Rock, all of whose ratings were abysmal at the outset.

Just one further note before I let you go. For all its hip, off-the-cuff humor, this is still a boy-meets-girl story. As I had mentioned before, there are questions of a serious involvement between Josh and either Summer or Carol Anne. Both of these possibilities got a jostling in Episode 6. With Summer, the nudge was subtle, but not altogether undetectable. With Carol Anne, a lot less so. When she visits Josh’s office to retrieve a thumb drive she had let him borrow, the conversation gets steamier and steamier, until they are both on the floor, out of our sight, but not our earshot. When Josh asks her what she is doing, she replies she is giving him “a thumb drive.” Did she mean she was acting the role of a handmaiden or administrating a faux prostate exam? Perhaps we’ll never know, but we do know we’re an awfully long way from Emma Pillsbury.

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Thomas Cleveland Lane

Thomas Cleveland Lane is a semi-retired freelance writer for pay and a stage actor for nothing more than the opportunity to make a fool of himself. Well, he does get a small stipend from the Washington Area Decency League, after playing the role of Hinezie in The Pajama Game, to never, ever appear on stage in his underpants again. When he has not managed to buffalo some director into casting him, Thomas can often be found at his favorite piano bar, annoying the patrons with his caterwauling. Thomas is the author of an anthology called Shaggy Dogs, a Collection of Not-So-Short Stories (destined to become a cult classic, shortly after he croaks). He is also the alter-ego to a very unbalanced Czech poet named Glub Dzmc. Mr. Lane generally resides in Gaithersburg, Maryland, and was last seen in the mirror, three days ago.
Thomas Cleveland Lane
Thomas Cleveland Lane
Thomas Cleveland Lane is a semi-retired freelance writer for pay and a stage actor for nothing more than the opportunity to make a fool of himself. Well, he does get a small stipend from the Washington Area Decency League, after playing the role of Hinezie in The Pajama Game, to never, ever appear on stage in his underpants again. When he has not managed to buffalo some director into casting him, Thomas can often be found at his favorite piano bar, annoying the patrons with his caterwauling. Thomas is the author of an anthology called Shaggy Dogs, a Collection of Not-So-Short Stories (destined to become a cult classic, shortly after he croaks). He is also the alter-ego to a very unbalanced Czech poet named Glub Dzmc. Mr. Lane generally resides in Gaithersburg, Maryland, and was last seen in the mirror, three days ago.