“The following documentary tells the story of the People v. Lavinia Peck-Foster.”
When the first season of Trial & Error came to a conclusion on April 18, 2017, there was much rejoicing in regards to how neophyte Northeasterner attorney Josh Segal managed to put his nose to the grindstone and—despite the many, many eccentricities of the denizens of East Peck, South Carolina—successfully save local celebrity Larry Henderson from spending the rest of his life in prison for murdering his wife. Unfortunately, while there was a certain amount of critical acclaim for the series—for instance, one highly reputable publication described it as “very funny”—there was considerable doubt as to whether or not viewers would get a chance to see Josh and his team return to the courtroom. But damned if NBC didn’t do the right thing and make it so, and...well, here we are again!
Meet Josh’s new client: Lavinia Peck-Foster (Kristin Chenoweth), a.k.a. “The First Lady of East Peck.” When she first appears onscreen—in police footage, of course—she’s driving a 1966 Rolls Royce and sporting a look which makes her seem as though she’s stepped straight out of L.A. Confidential, just as long as you can imagine that Kim Basinger somehow shrunk in the wash. Even as we first meet her, she’s already guilty of speeding, having been clocked going 95 MPH in a 30 MPH zone, but since she paid for the police department’s uniforms, the officer is easily convinced by the powerful pixie to let her off with a warning. Just as she’s about to depart, however, he notices that she’s got a tail light out. She asks him to put that in the warning, too. And that’s when the trunk pops open and reveals a suitcase stuffed with the dead body of her husband Edgar…and poorly stuffed at that, what with his feet hanging out.
Her response? “Oh, for fuck’s sake! Put it in the warning!” And with that, she floors it.
It’s a solid introduction, one which gives us a quick indication of who this woman is, how well-known she is in the town, and how little concern she has for process, procedure, or the law in general, really. More importantly, though, it shows us that Lavinia Peck-Foster is a force to be reckoned with, and after appearing onscreen for only a few seconds, it’s already incredibly easy to imagine that she’s guilty.
Make that re-enter Josh, since the fine folks at Trial & Error make a point of doing a quick recap of what went down last season and filling in some of the blanks on what’s happened since we last visited the gang. Josh has left New York behind and is now making his home in East Peck, Dwayne is on the police force for the time being, and Anne is…well, she’s at least as Anne as she was when we last saw her, if not more so. Certainly, she’s got a few new maladies to announce, including the Jumping Frenchman of Maine, which is so patently ridiculous that it feels like an unabashed gift to the fans. As for her announcement in the second episode that she also suffers from localized spontaneous human combustion that’s triggered by drinking rum, well, it’s hard to imagine that we won’t get a callback to that before season’s end.
We’re also reintroduced to Carol Anne Keane, who—to use a colloquial expression which seems just right for East Peck—has a bun in the oven, one which could be Josh’s or could just as possibly be the work of Carol Anne’s ex, Rutger. The evidence would seem to lean toward the former, but time and future episodes will tell if that’s truly the case. One thing’s for certain, though, and that’s that the spark between the two attorneys is definitely still there, as is Carol Anne’s filthy mouth, and as for the latter, I for one couldn’t be more thrilled.
Oh, and did I mention that the Murder Board is back? Come on, everybody: “Mur-der board! Mur-der board!” But the chant doesn’t return instantaneously. It comes back when it’s appropriate, which isn’t until Dwayne does it. As Anne gently explains to Josh, “You can’t force it.”
Despite all of these returning characters, the majority of the season premiere is devoted to Levinia, as is only appropriate, and Chenoweth makes the most of every moment she’s on the screen, just as the writers have gone out of their way to make sure we see the different facets of the character. She’s got so much pull in the town that she’s living in style even when she’s in custody, and she’s so far out of touch with the common people that she’s neither familiar with Lorne Doone cookies nor the proper pronunciation of their name. She’s got so much pull in the courthouse—in no small part because she and her husband paid for the courtroom—that when Carol Anne suggests that her bail should be set at $300 million, she (not Josh) counters with $10.00, and when it’s accepted and she’s forced to admit that she doesn’t have $10.00, Judge Alexander Kamiltow, whose name is pronounced exactly like you’d hope it wouldn’t be, pays for it out of his own pocket.
But there’s a tragic side to Levinia as well, and even if we can’t quite tell if she’s the one responsible for causing most of the tragedies in the first place, there’s something about her that makes you—or at least Josh—want to believe that she couldn’t possibly have killed her husband. And why on earth would she? After the unfortunate deaths of her father, mother, brother, and even her first cat, would she want to be alone? Of course not! Or at least that’s the mindset Josh is trying to maintain, anyway. Whether it lasts remains to be seen.
Certainly, there are some tough moments when he and the team venture forth to Peck Gardens, the enormous estate that Levinia calls home. She makes pointed mention of a houseboy who went for a run but must’ve gotten lost, so it seems almost a given that he’ll turn up at some point in the future. (Whether he’ll be alive or dead is another question altogether.) We also discover that Edgar was a...little person? Is that the politically correct term these days? Well, anyway, let’s just say that it explains how he fit into a suitcase, even if it doesn’t explain why his feet were hanging out. Lord knows there should’ve been plenty of room for him, especially since we later see that Dwayne is capable of fitting inside in his entirety. But we’ll get to that.
While Josh is spending some quality time in the pool with Levinia, learning more about his new client than he probably wants to know, Dwayne and Anne are busy exploring the grounds, which leads them into a hedge maze. There are some great moments inherent in this sequence, most of them involving Dwayne, but the big bombshell comes when they discover that there are bodies buried under the shrubbery. It’s a heck of a way to end a season premiere. Not that there’s much in the way of downtime between episode one and episode two, of course, what with one following immediately after the other. But if it’d make you feel better, you can come back and finish reading this next week.
Go on, I’ll wait.
Okay, I’m tired of waiting. On with the review.
The second episode expands the world of Trial & Error beyond the confines of East Peck—and, yes, even beyond West Peck—by introducing the news that Levinia’s case is being spotlighted by a true-crime podcast called M-Town, hosted by a lovely young woman named Nina Rudolph, played by Amanda Payton. It’s already clear that Nina and Josh are going to butt heads, but there seems to be enough of a spark that we’re being invited to consider the possibility of romance between them in the future. If it happens, though, you know Carol Anne isn’t going to be happy about it, so if that’s the way the plotline progresses, then God help them if she finds out.
It should come as a surprise to no one that Josh is incapable of preventing the trial from coming to pass, but it’s mostly because Carol Anne unabashedly fails to provide him with the majority of the information that he needed to prepare properly, writing it off by blaming pregnancy head. Levinia’s refusal to stay quiet in the courtroom doesn’t exactly help things, either, particularly when Carol Anne mentions that there are gold traces in Edgar’s head wounds and Levinia replies, “The only gold-plated thing I own is this cane!” Oops. My favorite line in the scene, however, comes from Carol Anne, and it’s one I actually had to replay in my head before realizing what I was hearing and laughing accordingly: “The bruises on his head are consistent with being struck by a wealthy woman.”
Josh and his team are trying to work out the timeline for the evening that Edgar was murdered, part of which involves determining how long Levinia’s performance at her gala lasted. (Hey, any excuse to let Kristin Chenoweth sing, am I right?) While it’s looking increasingly unlikely that this vampire theory of Dwayne’s is going to pan out, Dwayne and Anne spend a lot of time trying to determine whether or not it would’ve been possible for Levinia to pull off the murder in the midst of her gala party. As ridiculous as an idea as it was for Dwayne to climb into a suitcase and let Anne throw him as far as she could, it resulted in one of the biggest laughs of either of tonight’s episodes.
Meanwhile, Josh is in the courtroom with Levinia, who’s smiling, giggling, and reminding the townsfolk of East Peck why they love her so much. Unfortunately, that love makes it damned near impossible for her to be tried before a jury of her peers: by the time Carol Anne has asked the assembled individuals if anyone was currently employed by her company, if they had any family members who were employed by her company, if anyone enjoyed Peck Rum, or if they’d ever attended the Peck gala, everyone is out of the running, including the bailiff and the court transcriptionist. As a result, it’s going to be a bench trial, which is exactly what Carol Anne was after.
Episode two also introduces a new character to the mix: Jesse Ray Beaumont (Michael Hitchcock), a clock expert who was tried and convicted for the murder of Lavinia’s brother Chet nine years earlier. The clock storyline is where things start to get a little bit complicated, introducing the idea of different time zones in East Peck and West Peck, but as long as viewers don’t actually have to do math, I’ll allow it, mostly because I want to see where things go with Hitchcock’s character.
Things wrap up, however, with the team enjoying a spot of Peck Rum and Josh assuring his new podcast pal Nina that his client may be eccentric, but she’s no criminal. And, lo, we cut to security footage of Levinia wearing a trucker’s cap and a fake mustache as she shoplifts.
Okay, so maybe she’s looking a little more guilty.
- The surveillance footage from earlier incidents provides a lot of solid laughs throughout these two episodes, including Dwayne’s Glock 17 tricks and his subsequent realization that the loss of his pinkie toe from doing Glock 17 tricks has screwed with his balance. And who knew they kept security cameras trained on the candy machine? But thank goodness they did, that’s what I say.
- The brief history lessons are all funny, and they’re even funnier if you make a point of pausing and checking out the text. For instance, in the look back at the East Peck Lady Laws of 1952, there’s a picture bearing the caption, “Women overcome by their cycle.” Also great: the callbacks. I don’t know if I need a screaming guy waving red flags in every episode, but I’m also not going to complain if I get one.
- I’m amused by Josh’s inability to hear or understand Judge Kamiltow’s voice. But I’ll tell you right now: if it doesn’t end with him suddenly being able to hear him properly because he’s finally a true Pecker at heart, I’m going to be disappointed.
- “Children were the one thing Edgar couldn’t give me. Or anything on the top shelf of the cabinet.”
- “All my experience solving puzzles on place mats at fancy restaurants is about to pay for itself!”
- I’m loving the various looks that Levinia sports during the course of the first two episodes. Can’t wait to see whose fashion palette she swipes from next.
- “I’ve had more lasers pointed at my privates than James Bond.”
- “Is he the kid who sat on his balls at prom?” Even if I’d had to guess all the lines I thought would get a callback later in the episode, that never would’ve been one of them. But I’m glad it was.
- I hate whoever came up with the idea of writing the words “VAMPIRE WEEKEND AT BERNIE’S” on the board, because I suddenly found myself trying to combine band names with movie names, and I’m going to be doing it in my goddamned sleep now. Simply Red Dawn, Paul McCartney and Wings of Desire, L7 Faces of Dr. Lao...
- “No scarf for you, motherfucker!”
- “You’ve got to stop ripping on East Peck.” “The town flag is a cartoon of an owl saying, ‘Who farted?’” “In fairness, it was a contest, and nobody expected the elementary school turnout to be that high.”
- I’m very excited to find out who was responsible for Jesse Ray Beaumont’s hairstyle choice. I sincerely hope it was Michael Hitchcock’s idea.
- Lastly, those who were hoping to see John Lithgow return for season two kinda sorta got what they wanted: those few flashbacks to the end of season one didn’t really count, but the brief moment with Josh admitting that 80% of the town still believes that Larry Henderson killed his wife? I like to think that Lithgow took a new picture especially for the cover. (He probably didn’t. I just like to think that he did.)