“Lady driver! Lady driver!” Those are the words you can hear floating from the mouth of East Peck’s leading red flag bearer throughout Trial & Error's brand new season 2 as he trots in front of a, well, woman driver and her moving car. You see, those are simply the notification-necessary rules when there is a woman driving on the streets of East Peck, South Carolina, the fictional zany town at the heart of the newly returned NBC sitcom.
The running lady driver gag could easily be offensive. The flag announcement is part of East Peck’s nearly seven-decade old “Lady Laws,” which also include the rule that a woman judge cannot preside over another woman’s case. But Trial & Error, which returned on Thursday, doesn’t glorify ridiculous, country-friend misogyny — it deconstructs it, along with more of society's ills, through ridiculously good jokes.
You owe it to yourself to watch this delightful little series, which is buoyed by our national love of true crime intrigue, right now. After all, it’s not like you’re going to find a show that loves chanting “Murder board! Murder board!” more than this one.
Trial & Error season 1 was a riff on true crime touchstone-turned-Netflix property The Staircase. The comedy's freshman year followed New York lawyer Josh Segal’s (Nicholas D'Agosto) defense of a man (John Lithgow) who seemingly killed his wife. The comedy’s initial season wrapped up its 13 episode run with a very “It was the owl!” twist, leaving Josh open to defend an entirely new and entirely suspicious client this time around: Lavinia Peck-Foster (national treasure Kristin Chenoweth), the symbolic First Lady Of East Peck and official most beloved person in town. Thursday’s season 2 premiere, “The Suitcase,” opens with the reveal that there is a suitcase hiding the dead body of Lavinia's husband Edgar in the trunk of her car.
It is Josh’s job to defend Lavinia from murder charges as more strange, conflicting details of her case arise. Hence, the comedy’s official title for its The Jinx-flavoured sophomore year, Trial & Error: Lady, Killer (mind the very leading comma).
The true magic of Lady, Killer, which also adds a very S-Town element to the proceedings, comes in the performances. Where John Lithgow leaned into his bumbling, lovable every-man schtick last year, Tony-winner Kristin Chenoweth basks in the fact that no one is like Kristin Chenoweth. When you see her in jail, surrounded by a feast while smoking a long-stemmed cigarette, you’re not surprised. You’re like, “Yeah, that’s about what she deserves.” Same goes for the moment Lavinia struts into her mansion’s indoor pool, which is filled with salt water, natch, in a full 1950s-era velvet bathing dress, complete with an adorable ruffled skirt and elaborate swimming cap.
Of course Josh ends the premiere cradling Lavinia in the pool. Of course he and his investigation team listen to Lavinia’s 12-minute-long impromptu performance in second episode “The Timeline.” No one is immune to the charms of Kristin Chenoweth’s voice and relentless glamour.
It’s also simply fun to watch Josh, the slack-jawed straight man to the endless hijinks of East Peck, and his team, made up of sweet, simple, brother-cousin-having Dwayne Reed (Steven Boyer) and the fantastic Anne Flatch (Sherri Shepherd), try to break the case. Anne may be the true stand-out beloved weirdo in all of Trial & Error. Not only because of her ever-increasing list of afflictions — the reveal of her Jumping Frenchmen Of Maine condition is one of the funniest things you’ll see all year — but because of how fully her portrayer Sherri Shepherd commits to the bizarre, charming quirks of East Peck (a bit about a moose, his breath, and the number of Saturdays in a month is especially good).
During a stressful summer like this one, there are few things more fun to relax with than Trial & Error. And, if nothing else, it’s the “Did she really do it?” obsession of the season. Say it with us: Murder board! Murder board! Murder board!