×

TV Review: ‘Trial & Error’ Season 2 Starring Kristin Chenoweth

In its first season, the NBC sitcom criminally (pun intended) skated under the radar despite featuring John Lithgow as an earnest accused murderer in a sharp parody of the “The Staircase” true crime documentary. Hopefully, its very solid second season – featuring Kristin Chenoweth as an eccentric heiress in a sharp parody of “The Jinx” – will get more people to realize what they were missing.

East Peck, South Carolina, the fictional town at the heart of “Trial & Error,” feels like a bizarro world Pawnee, Indiana with a heavy drawl. Its citizens are fiercely loyal to the strange idiosyncrasies of their beloved town, and woe betide the stranger who tries to suggest they might know better. “Trial & Error” initially highlighted East Peck’s oddities by bringing in Josh Segal (Nicholas D’Agosto), an optimistic rookie lawyer sent from New York to cover a murder case whose “Northeastern” roots earned him widespread skepticism. His wide-eyed bewilderment at his surroundings could have easily turned into one-sided mockery of Southern quirks, but not only did D’Agosto make Josh a genuinely kindhearted straight man, but the show made the “Peckers” he encountered wonderfully strange in their own ways. In season 2, “Trial & Error” has Josh fully embrace the challenge of becoming a Pecker himself, and in turn, doubles down on the town’s quirks to prove the power of its singularly absurd voice.

Take the “Lady Laws,” a newly revealed archaic set of East Peck bylaws that, among other things, requires women drivers to make their way through traffic with the help of a man warning everyone else that there’s a “LADY DRIVER!” on the road. Or take Anne (Sherri Shepherd), the pluckiest and unluckiest citizen of East Peck, South Carolina. As she tells the camera with a pleasantly blasé expression in every episode, her many afflictions include face blindness, laughing uncontrollably at inappropriate times, and passing out when she sees something beautiful. As her conditions pile up with every passing episode, “Trial & Error” rarely lets an opportunity to indulge them go by, even if it’s just by letting Shepherd loose in the background of an otherwise unrelated shot. In the season 2 premiere, Anne reveals a new condition that comes so out of nowhere that spoiling it would be spoiling half the fun, but Shepherd is more than up to the challenge of selling it. Anne’s conditions make for a running joke as bizarre as it is hilarious – not to mention perfectly emblematic of “Trial & Error” at its smartest, weirdest best.

Season 2 reunites season 1’s mismatched defense team of Anne, Josh, and well-meaning blockhead Duane Reede (Steven Boyer). They’re more confident after winning a seemingly impossible case, but constant complications from new suspect Lavinia Peck-Foster (Chenoweth) and the return of their ferocious opposing counsel Carol Anne Keane (Jayma Mays) make it clear that their work is once again cut out for them.

Of the five episodes screened for critics, the premiere is the strongest by a wide margin – which isn’t to say that the season slides downhill so much as that premiere is fantastic. It’s hard not to miss Lithgow, but Chenoweth’s Lavinia is a melodramatic treat. The show lets Chenoweth unleash every ounce of her theatrical flair, highlighting Lavinia’s need to be adored with ostentatious flourishes and sporadic bursts into song. She might not seem like an obvious choice for a gender-flipped Robert Durst, but she quickly proves to be an excellent one.

Taking on “The Jinx,” however, does mean that this season has a bit of a trickier structure to nail. After all, the most fascinating aspects of the Durst case happened far outside the confines of a courtroom, which made for some of “Trial & Error’s” most fun material in season 1. It will be fascinating to see where “Trial & Error” goes in the back half of the season – especially since the show also brings in the new wrinkle of an intrepid podcast host (Amanda Payton) tracking the case in the hopes of scoring a “Serial”-esque scoop.

So, yes, there are approximately a million comedies on TV, and yes, true crime is a well-trod category. But even when it’s unclear where “Trial & Error” might be heading, its determination to stay as sharp and strange as its Peckers makes it worth a detour.

Comedy series, 30 mins. 5 episodes out of 10 watched for review.

Cast: Kristin Chenoweth, Nicholas D’Agosto, Sherri Shepherd, Jayma Mays, Steven Boyer, Amanda Peyton.

Crew: Executive producers Jeff Astrof, Matt Miller, Jeffrey Blitz.

Popular on Variety

TV Review: 'Trial & Error' Season 2 Starring Kristin Chenoweth

More TV

  • Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth WarrenSecond 2020

    ABC News Sets Moderators, Rules for Third Democratic Debate

    ABC News has announced the moderators for the third Democratic debate, as well as the qualification rules. The debate will be held on Thursday, Sept. 12, and will spill over to Friday, Sept. 13 if more than 10 candidates qualify. The moderating team will consist of chief anchor George Stephanopoulos, “World News Tonight” anchor and [...]

  • James Corden Paul McCartney Carpool Karaoke

    James Corden Got a Little Help From Paul McCartney on His Drive to the Emmys

    Saying “Baby, I could drive your car” has proven to be a very good strategy for James Corden — never more so than when he put Paul McCartney into the highly sought passenger seat. The primetime special “Carpool Karaoke: When Corden Met McCartney, Live From Liverpool” is a contender in five Emmy categories this year, [...]

  • Starz Logo

    Starz Orders Horror Comedy Pilot 'Shining Vale'

    Starz has put out a pilot order for “Shining Vale,” a horror comedy which hails from “Divorce” creator Sharon Horgan and “Trial & Error” co-creator Jeff Astrof. The prospective series is about a dysfunctional family that moves from the city to a small town into a house in which terrible atrocities have taken place. But no one [...]

  • Bethenny Frankel at the showtime Emmy

    Bethenny Frankel to Exit 'Real Housewives of New York' (EXCLUSIVE)

    Bethenny Frankel is stepping away from the “Real Housewives” franchise. Variety has learned exclusively that Frankel is poised to exit Bravo’s “The Real Housewives of New York” ahead of its upcoming twelfth season. Frankel first joined the acclaimed reality series back when it premiered back in 2008 before exiting the series in 2010 during the [...]

  • Dolly Parton

    BBC Commissions Dolly Parton Feature Documentary

    The BBC has commissioned a feature length documentary about country music legend Dolly Parton, it announced Wednesday. The documentary, tentatively titled “Dolly’s Country” will air on BBC Two this fall as part of a season of programs dedicated to country music. The broadcaster announced earlier in the day that it had acquired Ken Burns’ upcoming [...]

  • UCP to Develop Ann Shen’s 'Bad

    UCP to Develop Ann Shen’s 'Bad Girls Throughout History' as Anthology Series

    Universal Content Productions (UCP) is developing an anthology series based on Ann Shen’s book “Bad Girls Throughout History: 100 Remarkable Women Who Changed the World.” The project will be titled “Bad Girls,” with each episode featuring a different influential woman throughout history, including famous figures like Ada Lovelace, Rosa Parks, Mata Hari, and Ruth Bader [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content