When watching a sitcom revolving around a man who’s accused of killing his wife, you wouldn’t think it’d be such a big deal for the series to deliver a moment that causes your eyes to bulge and the words “oh, shit” to emerge unbidden from your lips. After all, a show that effectively only exists because someone was murdered should be a show that veers into the darkness from the get-go, right?
Yeah, not so much, actually.
Since its debut, Trial & Error has been many things – absurd, goofy, absolutely hysterical – but even with such a ripped-from-the-headlines premise, it’s been remarkably lighthearted. But for a brief moment in tonight’s episode, things got dark. Like, real dark.
But let’s not rush headlong into that moment, mostly because it’s not the driving force of this week’s pair of episodes. The actual force is a gentleman by the name of Howard Mankiewicz (guest star Fred Melamed), a.k.a. Josh’s boss, who’s based in New York but – since he happened to be down in Atlanta working on his own case – has decided to stop by and see how things are progressing with Larry’s defense.
In fact, things have been going relatively well with the case, aside from Summer decamping to sit over by the prosecution’s table, but when Howard shows up, Josh becomes overwhelmed, partially because he feels honored to be in the presence of a man he views as a mentor, but mostly because he becomes very aware very quickly that his team’s colorful small-town ways are liable to leave Howard cold, not to mention have him feeling doubtful about the chances of Josh’s success. If he has those feelings, however, then they’re less likely to have been caused by the townsfolk and more likely to be because Josh failed to follow a lead that was put in the minds of viewers in the opening moments of the first episode. The sudden awareness of this omission from their investigation is one that instantly causes Josh to howl, “How the fuck did we miss the cable guy?!”
It’s a fair question. It’s not one for which he has a good answer, though.
Turns out the cable guy’s name is Roger Bentman, the same guy whose name has been on the tip of Larry’s tongue on several occasions because of how much he hates him. After Josh heads to the cable company, he confirms that Roger’s work log showed him as having arrived at the house 10 minutes before the murder while also learning that Roger stopped showing up for work after that. In short order, a series of clues lead Josh to realize when Roger lives, so he scribbles down the appropriate information on the murder board…and when Larry sees this, he decides to go confront Roger himself. With Larry being Larry, his biggest concern isn’t about avenging his wife’s death, it’s about his annoyance over the cable not having been turned on…right up until he manages to unintentionally scare the poor bastard into falling off the roof.
That, by the way, is the moment when shit got dark. Just in case you hadn’t guessed.
Now, it’s not as if the moment isn’t defused almost immediately by Dwayne shouting, “There he is!” after Roger slams into the pavement. But it’s still shocking as hell when it happens, and the shock lingers through the commercial break into the first few seconds of the next act.
Other key goings-on during the course of the episode involve Larry being terribly jealous of Josh spending more time with Howard than him, Carol Ann becoming BFFs with Summer and trying to bond with her over how bad both of their fathers purportedly are, and Anne and Dwayne visiting Dwayne’s secret informant in prison, where it becomes evident that Dwayne – in addition to apparently having no idea what the word “secret” means – has spent way too much time unnecessarily worrying about smuggling things in. (I don’t know that I laughed harder at any line this week than Dwayne’s mournful, “Don’t tell me they’re allowed to have combs in here, too!”)
The evolution of the friendship – one might even call it a father-son dynamic – between Josh and Larry is actually very sweet, but Howard’s right: it definitely blurs the line between friend and client in a concerning way. Mind you, Howard’s not necessarily the best at identifying blurred lines, as evidenced by the very nice speech that he delivers to Josh about how he’s got so much confidence in him, making Josh feel like he was on cloud nine, only to send his spirits hurtling toward the ground by popping in and taking over the case as soon as it makes the national news.
Although Howard is clearly trying to downplay just how much he’s going to have to do with the case, likening himself to a coach and Josh to a quarterback, it’s clear from the moment he takes the reins of command that he’s got a charisma level that’s off the charts, not only winning over virtually everyone in the town – even the ones who were Team Josh – but making them understand the case in a way that Josh never managed to do. And, yes, that includes Dwayne, who declares that he learned more in the sidebar discussion in the judge’s chamber than he did “in eight years of high school. “ But while Josh can begrudgingly move past this situation, he absolutely can’t handle it when Howard decides to change Larry’s plea from “not guilty” to “guilty by reason of insanity.”
By Howard’s reasoning, an insanity plea is still a win for Larry, because he doesn’t have to endure Death by Bear (yes, that’s a thing in East Bend), and while Larry isn’t happy about it at first, a trip to the East Peck Home for the Criminally Insane and a rousing game of basketball with his future fellow patients is enough sway him into buying a t-shirt for the Home’s Athletic Department and put his trust in Howard. Josh isn’t giving up so easily, though, and heads to the East Peck Morgue to see Roger Bentman’s body, where Josh, Dwayne, and Anne get into a discussion with the coroner, who’s from the East Peck Hills. It’s a conversation that must be heard – and also see, because the subtitles are the best part – to be appreciated, but the end result is that they find a note from Bentman which takes him out of the running as a suspect. D’oh…
Ah, but then there’s Rutger Hiss, who’s still unconscious in the hospital, but the fact that he has glass shards in his arms leads Josh to so strongly believe in Larry’s innocence that he bursts into the courtroom and pleads his case to Larry. It works. (He’s a great lawyer, after all.) Howard informs Larry that if he’s going to bypass the insanity defense, then he’s on his own, and if things don’t pan out as they should, he’s really, really going to be on his own, as in looking for another job. Fortunately, he can at least temporarily find solace in the arms of Carol Ann…provided next week’s first episode doesn’t kick off with one of them suddenly leaping upwards into the shot again and saying, “No! This is wrong!” Or maybe Summer will burst in with plans to tell Josh how she really feels, only to find him in the embrace of the prospection. Egad! What if it’s both?!
Oh, well. Guess we’ll all have to tune in next week to find out what’ll happen.
- It’s a pretty sad state of affairs when the best thing you can say about your boss’s introduction to your eccentric friends is “the pants stayed on.”
- The Salty Pecker is a damned fine name for a drinking establishment.
- “Oh, shoot, I think I legged a squirrel.” Maybe the funniest line Jayma Mays has had thus far.
- Other huge laughs in the first episode: the hate mail being addressed “To That Larry Guy What Killed The Girl,” Larry’s remarks about Carol Ann’s squirrel picture on Instagram, and the local news putting up a picture of Woody Allen to represent Josh.
- “Nice guy. Big comb.”
- That East Peck only has one bank holiday – it’s called Pumpkin Fest and lasts for two weeks in June – is ridiculous, but Dwayne’s sidebar speech about the origins of the festival are jaw-dropping.
- When Larry makes a basket during his game at the Home for the Criminally Insane, one of the patients says, “Put it in, Chief.” Nice One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest reference.
- We get to see more of Summer’s sexy-abs boyfriend in the second episode, whose relationship with Larry is best summed up by the guy blowing into the house to use the bathroom because “I don’t feel comfortable dropping a deuce in the front yard yet,” and Larry responding, “If they give me the electric chair, I want him on my lap.”
- Big unexpected laugh in the second episode that I’m pretty sure will make me laugh no matter how many times I watch it: Larry admitting to having drank part of Clanton’s energy drink and then giddily displaying his blue tongue.
- I will never look at thumb drives the same way again.