‘Trial & Error’ sitcom signs off with a final nod (or two) to Durham true crime

Kristin Chenoweth as Lavinia Peck-Foster in the canceled-too-soon NBC sitcom “Trial & Error: Lady, Killer.”
Kristin Chenoweth as Lavinia Peck-Foster in the canceled-too-soon NBC sitcom “Trial & Error: Lady, Killer.” Sergei Bachlakov

The two-part finale of NBC’s Durham-loving sitcom “Trial & Error” airs Thursday night, and instead of a Season 2 finale, it’s looking more and more like the episodes will end the series.

NBC has opted to not renew “Trial & Error,” which devoted its first season to spoofing “The Staircase” — that’s the 13-part documentary series (now on Netflix) covering the murder trial of Michael Peterson in Durham. The second season of “Trial & Error” switched focus to spoofing the true crime documentary “The Jinx” (on HBO) with a little “S-Town” podcast tossed in.

But Season 2 of “Trial & Error” (called “Trial & Error: Lady, Killer”) didn’t leave “The Staircase” behind completely. The first episode of the season was called “The Suitcase” and it introduced a character named Rudolph (a nod to Peterson’s defense attorney David Rudolf).

Thursday’s last two episodes will have two more hat tips to Durham true crime.

In the episode airing at 9 p.m., the southern prosecutor Carol Anne Keane will utter the now-classic phrase “Pure-T filth,” famously used by Durham assistant district attorney Freda Black in her closing arguments in the Peterson trial. In fact, the Keane character is based on Black, according to the show’s creator, Jeff Astrof. (The scene should be a little more poignant considering Black was found dead in her home on July 29, and while no official cause of death has been announced, foul play is not suspected.)

The second episode, airing at 9:30, will end with a voicemail message teasing the crime that was to be featured in Season 3. The person leaving the message is Eryk Pruitt, co-creator of the podcast “The Long Dance,” which tells the story of the nearly 50-year-old Durham cold case murders of Patricia Mann and Jesse McBane. Astrof listened to “The Long Dance” and was drawn to Pruitt’s deep, gravelly voice, which he described as “what I imagine a barrel of bourbon would sound like if it could talk.” Astrof has also said that his plans for a third season would have included some plot lines from “The Long Dance.”

But now we have to miss all that. Or do we?

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Can ‘Trial & Error’ survive?

“Trial & Error” has been embraced by critics for its silly, over-the-top comedic treatment of the true crime documentary genre — and it had brilliant performances from John Lithgow (Season 1) and Kristin Chenoweth (Season 2), along with a strong supporting cast that includes Sherri Shepherd, Jayma Mays, Nick D’Agosto and Steven Boyer.

But the show received minimal promotion and support from NBC, and word-of-mouth from the small but passionate fan base hasn’t been enough to boost the ratings. Hence the pass from NBC on a Season 3.

Cue the social media campaign begging Netflix, Hulu and Amazon Video to #SaveTrialAndError.

Nicholas D’Agosto, left, as defense attorney Josh and John Lithgow as Larry Henderson in Season 1 of NBC’s “Trial & Error.” Michael Yarish NBC

So far, no developments on that front, but it ain’t over till it’s over. Astrof has been sweating it out along with fans (who call themselves Peckers because of the show’s fictional East Peck, S.C., setting), but he says that the fan support has been “overwhelming and appreciated” and that he’s hopeful.

“We don’t yet have a home for Season 3,” Astrof told The News & Observer on Wednesday. “But we’ve been here before, and Peckers always rise to the occasion.”

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Watch ‘Trial & Error’

You can watch the final two episodes (of just Season 2, we hope) starting at 9 p.m. Thursday on NBC.

Save ‘Trial & Error’

Take to social media and tag Netflix, Hulu and Amazon Prime Video with the hashtag #savetrialanderror. If you’re bolder, maybe look into sending hairless cats to all the CEOs. Just a thought.