A Great Tonic To All Those True Crime Series
Kristin Chenoweth has always been one of the most incredible talents of the 21st century. Her work on Broadway has always been astounding — it never fails to amaze that such a melodious voice comes from such a tiny body. But nearly as impressive as her work on the boards has been her work on the small screen. As Annabeth Schott, she was one of the highlights of the often chaotic final seasons of The West Wing. Her work as Olive, the waitress who yearns for Ned on the criminally underwatched Pushing Daisies was wonderful, deservingly getting her an Emmy. And about the only thing wrong with her work on the satiric GCB was that ABC had no faith in it.
Now, she returns to series TV, and as always, she’s picked a gem of a series to work in: NBC’s Trial & Error, a satire of the true-crime documentaries that perforate the airwaves, combined with the same mockumentary style that NBC has become famous for.
In this series, New York attorney Josh Segal has settled into the town of East Peck (where the residents are all Peckers, of course) and his second trial is that of the wife of the town’s elders, Lavinia Peck-Foster. Chenoweth grabs on to a role she has yet to have a chance the play: the femme fatale. It’s clear from the beginning of the series that everybody in this town loves her, which is why people have such a hard time thinking she’s guilty of murder, even after the crushed body of her husband is found in a suitcase in her husband’s trunk. Josh naturally considers her a dream client, even after she does everything in her power to appear guilty. This includes buying gifts for the jury, openly trying to seduce Josh, and in the final minutes of the second episode, being caught shoplifting. She may be guilty, but its hard for the viewer to accept it, because, come on, Kristin Chenoweth.
If it were just for the glorious work of Chenoweth, this would be a delight to watch. But this is the second season of this series, and its very clear the writers have taken out a leaf from the Parks & Rec playbook. East Peck is just as messed up a town as Pawnee was (Peck rum is drunk at elementary schools, the voting age is around 8, East Peck is to the south of North Peck), and almost every resident of this town could be wonderful to build a series around. Nicholas D’Agosto as Josh is, more or less, playing straight man to almost everybody else. There’s his secretary Anne Flatch (Sherri Shephard) whose naivety is matched only by the incredibly rare ailments that she seems to have by the bucketload (she seems to have to ability to nearly spontaneously combust, for one). There’s Dwayne, who seems to have a forcefield a stupidity around him. He’s working for the police now, but he probably won’t be for long, considering one of his major mistake was shooting his own toe of while demonstrating gun safety in front of an elementary school. And there’s Carol Anne, the head prosecutor, who has a major affair with Josh last year, and is now seriously pregnant, using her pregnancy to manipulate the judge, and trying to keep poor Josh running through hoops. (Jayma Mays is a real revelation here.) And of course, there’s the investigation itself, which involves trying to find out time of death based on the murder weapon, which is a grandfather clock.
If you want to see a real satire of all those murder-based series, Trial & Error is the show for you. If you want to see a genuinely brilliant comedy, it works as that as well. And, of course, if you want to see Chenoweth satirize her own ability to sing, well, you don’t really need a reason to watch her. Really, about the only mystery about Trial and Error is why such a great show is working in the summer instead of being at the center of NBC’s fall lineup. But then again, considering the dark materials that make up so much network programming, maybe this is the time we really need a little Pecker in you.
My score: 4.5 stars.