While the future of the wonderfully silly comedy Trial & Error is in limbo — Warner Bros. is hoping to find the sitcom a new home, after NBC failed to renew it for a third season — the brilliant stupidity of season 2 should not be forgotten come Dec. 6, when the Golden Globe nominations are announced. Though I’d be happy if any member of the comedy’s ensemble cast picked up a nomination (let’s hear it for “Orange Lawyer,” Jayma Mays!), season two would not have been as blissfully bonkers if it weren’t for leading lady (killer) Kristin Chenoweth.
The Emmy-winning actress faced the very intimidating task of following John Lithgow, who starred in season one as accused murderer (and confessed roller-skating aficionado) Larry Henderson. After securing a not guilty verdict for Larry, hyper-earnest attorney Josh Segal (Nicholas D’Agosto) began this season with a new client: Lavinia Peck-Foster (Chenoweth), the blindly beloved first lady of East Peck, S.C. A swanning grande dame draped in floral chiffon and sparkly jewels, Lavinia is charged with the murder of her husband Edgar, which she vehemently denies — even though Edgar’s diminutive body was found stuffed in a suitcase in the trunk of her car.
Much of Trial & Error’s humor stems from the exaggerated weirdness of a seemingly quaint small town, and Chenoweth brings the full force of her Tony-winning theatricality to the role. Lavinia floats through life in a bubble of privilege, posing for photos with her adoring public/ potential jurors and gifting everyone in the courtroom with a fancy silk scarf. “I have to give everyone a take-home,” she sniffs. “I’m not on trial for murdering etiquette!”
The actress blends Lavinia’s many contradictions into a deliciously over-the-top cocktail: With her prim tea gloves and silky Veronica Lake waves, the first lady of East Peck looks every inch the sophisticate, but there’s something sinister (and quite horny) lurking within her well-bred heart. Alternately arch and haughty, dry and deceptive, Lavinia Peck-Foster owns you, and Chenoweth never lets us forget it. Even the way she addresses Josh, as “lawyer” — drawled across two luxurious syllables, LOY-urr — is a little feat of aristocratic perfection.
Just as season one earned laughs from the sight of a towering Lithgow whizzing around on roller skates, in season two Chenoweth throws her tiny four-foot-eleven frame into a variety of absurd physical comedy scenarios: Wrapping an entire banquet spread in a tablecloth and hoisting it, laboriously, out a window; falling to the floor in a dead faint whenever the need arises; riding a grown man out of the room like a horse for dramatic effect. (When Lavinia Peck-Foster hops on your back and yells “Hiyah!” — as she does to dimwitted East Peck officer Dwayne Reed (Steven Boyer) — well, you’d better just trot away like a horse, no questions asked.)
Did I mention that she sings? Of course, she sings — this is golden-throated Broadway goddess Kristin Chenoweth, after all. Lavinia’s go-to is “A Bird in a Gilded Cage,” and even though the length of her epic solo at the annual Peck gala (23 minutes, give or take) is played for laughs, by the end, Josh, Dwayne, and Anne (Sherri Shepherd) have been brought to tears by the almost aggressive beauty of Lavinia’s voice. Human words can’t do it justice, so just watch:
Such beauty and refinement, and she can deliver a joke about vaginal rejuvenation with a straight face? (“I’ve had more lasers pointed at my privates than James Bond.”) Work like that is the very definition of “award-worthy.”
Trial & Error: Lady, Killer is streaming on Hulu.