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'Trial & Error' review: Kristin Chenoweth makes the true-crime spoof a summer pleasure

Kristin Chenoweth stars in the second season of

Kristin Chenoweth stars in the second season of NBC's "Trial & Error." Photo Credit: NBC/Sergei Bachlakov

THE SERIES "Trial & Error: Lady, Killer"

WHEN | WHERE Season 2 premieres Thursday at 9 p.m. on NBC/4

WHAT IT'S ABOUT Lavinia Peck-Foster (Kristin Chenoweth) is the so-called "first lady" of East Peck — a fabulously wealthy, and all-around fabulous leading citizen. And then — cue the dramatic downbeat — her murdered husband is discovered in the trunk of her Rolls-Royce. He's stuffed in a suitcase. Suspicion immediately falls upon Lavinia, who retains the services of attorney Josh Segal (Nicholas D'Agosto). Segal, a former New Yorker, has for some reason settled in East Peck, where he's built a considerable reputation after securing the release of Larry Henderson (John Lithgow) last season. He and his team — Dwayne Reed (Steven Boyer) and Anne Flatch (Sherri Shepherd) — get to work sorting out the evidence, and begin with the timelines of the crime. That's complicated by the fact that East Peck (where the crime was committed) and West Peck (where the body was discovered) are in two separate time zones. Meanwhile, attorney for the prosecution Carol Anne Keane (Jayma Mays) is back again and hungry for a conviction. She's also (very) pregnant. 

This true-crime spoof is an anthology, in which the defendant is played by someone new each season. This season, it's Chenoweth's turn.  

MY SAY NBC launched this lunatic of a sitcom in March last year, to so-so ratings and slightly less so-so of a critical response. But "Trial & Error" works better in a TV ecosystem dominated by repeats and "America's Got Talent." There's a could-give-a-damn attitude mixed with an abiding sense that the world is insane and we may as well get used to it. Summer seems just about right for this kind of inspired nonsense. 

Which obviously brings us to Chenoweth. A gifted comedic actress in addition to all her other talents, she's spent a TV career playing characters with Dickensian names — Olive Snook ("Pushing Daisies"), Miracle Grohe ("Sit Down, Shut Up"), Vanessa Gekko ("BoJack Horseman"). Her Lavinia Peck-Foster effortlessly joins this club. Outsized and theatrical, Lavinia's a big fish in a little pond, even if the pond does happen to have two area codes. She has a hairless cat (named Fluffy, of course). Her cigarette holder is a foot long. When Lavinia enters a courtroom, she demands that all those present rise. They do, including the judge. And befitting her status as first lady of East Peck, she dispenses gifts to the jury, explaining, "I'm not on trial for murdering etiquette."

Is Lavinia guilty? There is exculpatory evidence, also evidence of the culpatory variety. But "Trial & Error" isn't much concerned with sorting out the difference. Like "American Vandal," "T&E" is a sendup of the true crime documentary (like "Making a Murderer"), with its breathless discoveries and gotcha reveals. Rather than a mirror universe, "Trial" unfolds in an upside-down one, where — like "Alice in Wonderland" — as many as six impossible things could happen before breakfast, and often do. That's what makes this show a summer pleasure, and with someone like Chenoweth on board — even if only for this season — maybe a summer fixture too.

BOTTOM LINE Kristin Chenoweth knows it's a mad, mad world out there but has the chops to make us forget about that for a little while.

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