Starting a few years ago, the true crime genre saw its popularity rise exponentially thanks to numerous TV shows and podcasts dedicated to the subject, making it nearly impossible to go anywhere without hearing cheery chatter about some horrifying crime. Around the same time, the mockumentary genre became NBC’s go-to recipe for half hour comedies, but audiences eventually grew tired of the format.
Logically, NBC executives thought it’d be a good idea to surf on the true crime wave and combine it with something they know very well: mockumentaries. On paper, it sounds like a terrible idea, but the Trial & Error trailer suggests they might be on to something this time.
True crime has always been a subject of interest for society, and early traces of that fascination can be found in the 19th century, when newspaper writers started chronicling everyday crimes. It gained further respectability thanks to Truman Capote’s masterpiece In Cold Blood, but it wasn’t until Errol Morris’ documentary The Thin Blue Line that the genre really took off in the mainstream.
The Thin Blue Line had such an impact that it led to the release of a convicted death row inmate and spawned several other great documentaries, such as the Paradise Lost trilogy and 2004’s The Staircase. Over the past two years, we’ve seen an increase in true crime documentaries (and podcasts). People are fascinated with the hijinks of Robert Durst in HBO’s The Jinx, the gross miscarriage of justice in Netflix’s Making a Murderer, and the odyssey of the OJ trial in The People VS OJ Simpson and OJ: Made in America (which may even snag an Oscar nomination).
The mockumentary genre can be traced back to the ‘60s, with films such as A Hard Day’s Night and Woody Allen’s Zelig, but it was This Is Spinal Tap, co-written by Christopher Guest in 1984, that cemented the genre’s popularity. Last year saw two examples of great mockumentary films with What We Do In The Shadows and Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping, but it was television which truly appropriated the genre and gave us The Office, Parks and Recreation and Modern Family. In recent years, we’ve seen a decline in half hour comedies using the mockumentary trope, but we are thankfully about to get another serving with Trial & Error.
Trial & Error follows a young lawyer (played by Nicholas D’Agosto) who travels to a small southern town to defend a quirky poetry professor accused of murdering his wife. Yes, it appears to be a lazy attempt at mixing both genres, so what exactly makes this show one to watch? The answer is simple: John Lithgow. He is quite simply one of the most talented actors out there (3rd Rock from the Sun anyone?) Fresh off a Golden Globe nomination for The Crown, he appears to be having a lot of fun with the role of the murder suspect in Trial & Error, and his comedic timing seems absolutely perfect. His presence alone assures us this series will be a fun watch, although we know he’ll probably end up being the murderer, considering he was, after all, the Trinity killer.
If you’re as intrigued as we are, the show premieres on NBC March 7, and you can watch the trailer here.