If you’ve watched “The Staircase” on Netflix and you’re itching to start binging another true-crime documentary right away, don’t! There’s something better to watch first.
The very next thing you should watch is the NBC sitcom “Trial & Error,” which is a true-crime documentary spoof that is actually based on “The Staircase.”
Even Michael Peterson, the person at the center of “The Staircase,” has watched “Trial & Error” and told us he “really enjoyed it” (more on that in a bit).
“Trial & Error” is not a straight or factual take on the Peterson case, of course, (Peterson went on trial in 2003 for the murder of his wife Kathleen in their Durham home) but there are many similarities. I outlined a few of the similarities last year just before NBC debuted the series.
For starters, the main character, Larry Henderson (played by the great John Lithgow), is a writer, having published one work of poetry. Peterson wrote war novels. Henderson found his wife in a bloody heap in front of a large plate-glass window in the couple’s mansion. The window is right in front of a large staircase. In real life, Mike Peterson found Kathleen at the bottom of a back staircase and it was a very bloody scene.
(Disclaimer: We realize there is nothing funny about real-life murder, and there was certainly nothing funny about the way Kathleen Peterson died. But that trial was bonkers — just like “Trial & Error.”)
The show’s creator, Jeff Astrof, confirmed that he got the idea for the show after binging on “The Staircase” when it aired on Sundance years ago. He tried to sell the idea of a spoof for years but finally got a network interested after the popularity of true-crime stories increased.
“Trial & Error” did get picked up for a second season, which debuts July 19, but it will focus on a different murder and star Kristin Chenoweth and Michael Hitchcock. Even though the Larry Henderson case isn’t at the center of the plot, there will still be plenty of “Staircase” references in Season 2, Astrof assures us.
Episode 1 of the second season is titled “The Suitcase” and Astrof also promises that the district attorney with the thick Southern drawl, Carol Anne Keane (played by Jayma Mays), will say “Pure T Filth” at some point (“Staircase” viewers will recognize that as a signature Freda Black line).
We asked Michael Peterson via email this week if he had watched “Trial & Error” and he said he had.
“I was wary of course, and the kids appalled when it was announced, but I really enjoyed it,” he wrote. “I thought the characters hysterical. It was all tongue in cheek, satire, and a spoof. I told the kids it was safe to watch, but I’m not sure any of them did. Who could be upset with John Lithgow portraying him?”
The answer is: no one. (Lithgow is brilliant in the comedic role, as always.)
How to watch Season 1 of “Trial & Error”
▪ NBC: The entire first season is available on NBC.com and through the NBC mobile app. You’ll have to sign in with your cable/satellite username and password.
▪ Amazon Video: You can purchase a digital download of the first season for $19.99 on Amazon.
▪ iTunes: On iTunes, the season will cost you $19.99.
▪ Google Play: Also $19.99 on Google Play.
▪ YouTube: If you prefer YouTube, also $19.99.
▪ Hulu: I hesitate to even list this because for some crazy reason, Hulu only has episodes 5-9 of “Trial & Error” Season 1. You really need to see the whole thing, so really, don’t even bother. Hulu costs $7.99 per month ($11.99 without commercials) and your first month is free.