Is there anything Kristin Chenoweth can’t do?
I don’t even mean this rhetorically. We know the Emmy- and Tony- winner can sing, dance and act. But I also kind of feel like she could come over and fix my leaky faucet and cook me a gourmet dinner.
Chenoweth’s performance in the second season of Trial & Error, now subtitled Lady, Killer is so inspired, so utterly delightful, such a master class in what can happen when an artist holds nothing back that I just want my entire review to be that GIF of Meryl Streep clapping at the Oscars.
Chenoweth replaces John Lithgow to star as this season’s defendant, Lavinia Peck-Foster, the beloved and extremely wealthy First Lady of East Peck. She’s accused of killing her husband after his body is found in the trunk of her car. But she’s innocent, I tell you. Innocent!
The role is an utterly perfect one for Chenoweth, who plays Lavinia to the gloriously obnoxious hilt. Lavinia calls people by the roles they play in her life: “lawyer,” “house boy,” “butler.” She’s also completely unaware of the seriousness of the charges filed against her. “I had to give everyone a take home. I’m not on trial for murdering etiquette,” she tells the camera after handing out gifts in the courtroom.
While Lavinia is new to the story, the rest of the cast is made up of returning characters from Season One. Josh Segal (Nicholas D’Agosto) is the New York lawyer who has now permanently transplanted to East Peck. He’s aided by not-the-sharpest-investigator-in-the-shed Dwayne Reed (Stephen Boyer) and secretary Anne Flatch (Sherri Shepherd). Jayma Mays also returns as prosecuting attorney Carol Anne Keane.
The series walks a perfect line: It’s a farce, but it’s never so ridiculous and over-the-top that it’s grating. It’s more Parks and Recreation than, say, the Airplane movies or TBS’ Angie Tribeca. D’Agosto keeps the show grounded as the straight man keeping a straight face amid all the town shenanigans. He’s the Jim Halpert of Trial & Error, looking at the camera with an incredulous “Can you believe what I have to put up with?” expression.
Chenoweth is fantastic, but Shepherd once again nearly steals the show. Anne is plagued by a litany of little-known illnesses. My personal favorite is the one that causes her to spontaneously raise her hand. “It’s how I accidentally joined the Marines for three years,” she says. Those who only know Shepherd from her stint on The View have vastly underestimated her comic finesse and spot-on delivery. Then there’s Carol Anne—now nearly nine months pregnant, maybe by Josh but maybe not—who says, “I’ve never been sharper in my life. I have two brains inside me now.” She and Josh have a “strictly professional relationship with occasional intercourse.”
Also reminiscent of 30 Rock, the jokes come quick and the series often returns to sight gags that hold their humor no matter how often they’re repeated. East Peck has a law that requires someone to run ahead of women driving cars waving red flags and shouting “Lady Driver! Lady Driver!” and I’m here to tell you I laughed every single time. I need subversive humor about how women are currently being treated in our society now more than ever.
A commentary on our obsession with true crime podcasts and TV series, this season also features Amanda Payton as podcaster Nina Rudolph. Lavinia’s trial is going to be featured on the next season of M Town. “In my experience, M Town always has a twist,” Nina says.
A murder board (Murder board! Murder board!). A judge who speaks so quietly no one should be able to understand him, except everyone but Josh can. A day on which, if Mickey Moose sees his breath, it determines how many Saturdays there will be in a month. A charity called Clocks for Kids that gives impoverished children clocks (“I’m so hungry,” the child replies, holding a huge antique clock.) A handwriting expert who is also a carny. I could go on, but I don’t want to ruin all the jokes. The show just made me giggle and delight in its clever sight gags, quick turns of phrase and terrific performances. All this, plus Chenoweth sings!
Honestly, what more could you want in a show? If you didn’t see the first season, it doesn’t matter. The second season is a self-contained joy. A blissful and much needed escape. Tell all your brother cousins to watch.
Trial & Error: Lady, Killer premieres tonight at 9 p.m. on NBC.
Amy Amatangelo, the TV Gal®, is a Boston-based freelance writer, a member of the Television Critics Association and the Assistant TV Editor for Paste. She wasn’t allowed to watch much TV as a child and now her parents have to live with this as her career. You can follow her on Twitter (@AmyTVGal) or her blog .