During its first season, NBC’s Trial & Error was a lovely surprise: a clever parody of the true crime genre, a mockumentary style that didn’t feel stale, a laugh-out-loud performance from John Lithgow as an accused murderer, and an emphasis on jokes that felt like a throwback to the Must See TV era. At just 13 episodes, there was barely any room for filler — just heightened stakes and humorous twists (that were often genuinely surprising). The second season, which premieres this week, swaps out Lithgow for Kristin Chenoweth and ramps up everything that made the first season so good. It doesn’t disappoint — in fact, it’s even better.
If you haven’t seen season one, you can still jump into this season, but here’s a quick recap: New York defense attorney Josh Segal (Nicholas D’Agosto) travels to East Peck, South Carolina to try his first murder case. His “team” consists of lead investigator Dwayne Reed (Steven Boyer), a dimwitted guy who means well and craves Josh’s friendship, and his assistant Anne Flatch (Sherri Shepherd), who remains plucky and optimistic despite her ever-increasing list of afflictions that range from face blindness to walking backwards after she gets a flu shot. Their office is shared with a taxidermist because, why not?
Trial & Error: Lady, Killer — emphasis on the comma — follows a brand new case: heiress Lavinia Peck-Foster (Chenoweth) is accused of murdering her husband. It’s an inspired casting choice, especially when you factor in that this season is clearly a send-up of The Jinx (season one was more like The Staircase), and Chenoweth is essentially playing Robert Durst. Chenoweth nails it throughout, hamming it up while relying on her penchant for blending sweetness with melodramatics. (And yes, she does sing.) What worked with Lithgow’s Larry Henderson was his accidental, clueless knack for making himself seem guiltier and guiltier as the season went on, despite his protests. What works here, with Lavinia, is her nonchalance because she’s the most popular person in town and is virtually untouchable. When her husband’s body is found in her trunk, she’s not worried, but inconvenienced.
Lavinia is considered the “First Lady of East Peck,” so beloved that if Josh & Co. don’t win their case, they could be run out of town. The first few episodes of the series followed outsider Josh as he was introduced to the weirdness of East Peck, a town “that randomly fires cannonballs every 12 hours” and where the number of Saturdays in a month is determined by whether a moose sees his breath. Fortunately, it quickly had Josh — who has since moved there full-time — embrace East Peck rather than gawk at it. East Peck is a strange but fully-formed fictional town in the same vein as Pawnee in Parks and Recreation or the titular setting in Schitt’s Creek, which makes it all the more endearing. Trial & Error is so good at mining silly humor from East Peck and its inhabitants, and the second season delights in further creating this world, particularly with the existence of “Lady Laws.” The outdated bylaws provide for an incredibly funny running gag involving women drivers, and an easy way to write out last year’s female Judge because one law states that a woman is not allowed to publicly judge another woman.