The Best Running Joke on TV Right Now

If you’re not watching NBC’s ‘Trial and Error,’ you are missing out on the many laughs delivered by Sherri Shepherd.
By  · Published on September 13th, 2018

NBC comedy Trial & Error follows Josh Segal (Nicholas D’Agosto), a green but eager-to-win corporate lawyer from New York who moves to East Peck, South Carolina, a fictional small town even quirkier than Pawnee, Indiana—it doesn’t have any bookstores but it has four pet psychics—to defend a murder suspect. His crack team is comprised of two native Peckers, Dwayne Reed (Steven Boyer), an inept local cop who once accidentally left his gun in the microwave, and Anne Flatch (Sherri Shepherd) the office assistant and head researcher who, in the show’s pilot script, is described as a woman in her forties with “a laundry list of psychological disorders.” Together this small town legal firm takes on two separate murder suspects, a quirky poetry professor played by John Lithgow in its first season and a beloved town heiress played by the inimitable Kristin Chenoweth in its second. As they work to exonerate their clients, the team is constantly derailed by its own incompetence and eccentricity. Most often the culprit is Anne’s endless list of ailments, which thwart the team’s advances at nearly every turn and have become TV’s best running joke. That’s right, Brooklyn 99’s recurring “title of your sex tape” gag has been unseated (honestly, it’s still a great joke but even the cast seemed weary of the bit at their last comic-con appearance).

This gag usually starts off with Anne behaving oddly and then breaking for a confessional (the show is a parody of true crime documentaries like “The Staircase”) where she uses the phrase, “I have a condition called,” before explaining the extremely odd illness that explains away her extremely odd behavior throughout the episode. Shepherd displays excellent comic timing in the role, which I can confidently say is her best ever.

Here are just some of Anne’s problems:

“I have something called” +

Facial amnesia i.e. an inability to recognize faces. In the first episode, Anne meets Josh and she tells him she has this as a way to explain why they meet for the first time several times. Ever the optimist, Anne sees the perks of her illness. In a confessional, she explains, “With my husband, it’s like sleeping with a different man every night.” She also overcompensates by being really good at identifying other body parts.

St.Vitus Dance a condition that causes Flatch to involuntarily raise her hand.

Spontaneous human combustion when her colleague spots smoke coming from Flatch’s arm, she confesses that she suffers from a localized strain of SHC that is activated when she drinks rum

Foreign accent syndrome after a trip to the dentist Flatch returns to the office with a British accent and explains that the adoption of a new accent is her body’s response to anesthesia

Involuntary emotional expression disorder Flatch experiences uncontrollable laughing fits after hearing bad news. She first learned she had this neurological disorder after witnessing her grandmother fall onto a car and finding herself unable to stop herself from laughing.

Blepharospasm due to this disorder there are extended periods of time in which Flatch can’t open her eyes. To make up for her shut eyes, Anne has her daughter paint fake eyes over her eyelids so as not to draw attention to herself. The results are horrifying.

Stendhal syndrome fainting at the sight of something beautiful due to being overwhelmed by the subject’s beauty. In this case, one of the serene painted landscapes that line the courtroom hallway causes Flatch to pass out. This is one of the rare times Flatch has a disorder that can actually be found in the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders.

The jumping Frenchmen of Maine when surprised by something or someone, Flatch proceeds to jump unnaturally high, once hitting the ceiling from a previously seated position at her desk.

Alice in Wonderland syndrome this syndrome manifests as an inability to properly perceive the size of things.

Nocturnal lagophthalmos this disorder allows the afflicted to sleep with their eyes wide open. “Of my many gifts,” Flatch explains, “this one has helped me the most at this job.”

Should the show be granted a third season, I can’t wait to see what strange new disorders are unveiled. “You know,” Flatch says while casually walking out of the room backward in a recent episode, “this may come as a surprise but I’ve been the subject of a lot of studies.” Never change Anne Flatch!

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Naomi Elias is a contributor at Film School Rejects. Her work has also appeared on IGN, Pajiba, Nylon, and Syfy Wire. You can follow her on Twitter here: @naomi_elias (she/her)