A good ongoing mystery show is only as good as its twists, turns, and red herrings. Trial & Error: Lady, Killer continues to provide us with countless twists and turns and cliffhangers. Created by Jeffrey Blitz and Matt Miller, Trial & Error: Lady, Killer is the second season of NBC’s true-crime satirizing comedy Trial & Error. This season follows the trial of Lavinia Peck-Foster (Kristen Chenoweth) as Josh Segal (Nicholas D’Agosto) and his Associates (Anne (Sherri Shepherd) and Dwayne (Stephen Boyer)) defend her against prosecutor Carol-Anne Keaton (Jayma Mays).
“The Murder Clock”: Josh’s team continues to hunt for the potential murder weapon that would seal their timeline. The case takes a dramatic turn as their search leads them to two new suspects and some shocking news about Lavinia. (Written by Liz Astrof and directed by Jeffrey Blitz)
“A Hole in the Case”: As the trial begins, Josh and his team experience some hiccups in proving Lavinia’s innocence to the judge. As soon as Josh thinks he’s been able to find cause for dismissal of the case, Carol Anne argues to test the timeline herself, leading them to uncover a hidden passageway on Lavinia’s property. (Written by David Booth and directed by Yana Gorskaya)
NOTE: There will be spoilers for episodes 3 and 4 of Trial & Error: Lady, Killer.
Picking up from last week’s cliffhanger, the gang discovers that Edgar, Lavinia Peck-Foster’s husband (who she’s accused of murdering) was bludgeoned by an East Peck Clock (East Peck time runs an hour behind North Peck time, and Edgar was murdered in North Peck), so the timeline for Lavinia to have successfully murdered Edgar shrinks from the previously believed 75 minutes to a mere fifteen. Naturally, this leads Josh to believe there’s no way for Lavinia to have committed the crime and Carol-Anne to try and prove she could’ve. Meanwhile, Josh bails Lavinia out of jail after she gets arrested (while disguised as Ronnie del Mundo) for stealing a sandwich and Dwayne tries to obtain the clock used to murder Edgar from its current owner. Naturally, things spiral out of control from there until Josh and Carol-Anne discover a secret tunnel leading from Lavinia’s pool to the lake where Edgar was drowned. It’s in this week’s two episodes where this season’s reduced episode count (10 episodes this season compared to 13 episodes last season) becomes noticeable. Thankfully, the effect of this reduction in episodes is a positive one as there’s a bit less fluff this season than there was last season. In the middle episodes of season 1, it sometimes felt like everyone was dragging their feet and stalling for time so the mystery didn’t get solved too quickly, but in Lady, Killer, everything moves at a good pace. It feels like each new clue and plot twist actually matters to the overall case and that they’re not just a bunch of red herrings. Every mystery should have a few good red herrings, sure, but the problem with these multi-episode mysteries is that the longer they run, the more red herrings you have to have until it’s impossible for the audience to solve the mystery because there were so many false leads. And that’s no fun. Thankfully, Lady, Killer is, so far, avoiding that problem.
The big reveal at the end of “The Murder Clock” is that Lavinia frequently disguises herself as Ronnie del Mundo and commits petty crimes. Earlier in the episode, they find out that the beneficiary of Edgar’s life insurance policy was one Ronnie del Mundo, which naturally excited Josh as he thought that meant Lavinia no longer had a motive to kill Edgar. In perfect murder mystery fashion, that rug was quickly pulled out from underneath him as he finds out that Livinia and Ronnie are the same person. It’s such a perfect bait-and-switch and both of these episodes are just full of them. “A Hole in the Case” ends with a similar twist as Josh and Carol-Anne walk the path from Lavinia’s house to the lake and realize there’s no way she could’ve dragged Edgar’s body from the poolhouse to the lake in fifteen minutes only for Dwayne to appear from a huge pipe that leads directly from the poolhouse to the lake. Again, it’s a perfect bait-and-switch. Season 1 of Trial & Error featured a lot of great bait-and-switches, and season 2 very much continues that trend.
“A Hole in the Case” begins Lavinia’s actual trial, and in true Trial & Error fashion, it does not go well for the defense. For every point Josh makes in defense of Lavinia, Carol-Anne has an equally strong counterpoint and it all just sort of falls apart for the defense until Josh makes a chance discovery involving a change in Edgar’s health leading to a change in his handwriting. The best part about that plot point was the fact that Carol-Anne brought in a handwriting expert as a witness, and that expert was played by Jim O’Heir (from Parks and Recreation). It was such a joy to see Jim again, and his character here, while small, is definitely memorable and plays to his strengths as a comedic actor (it also really makes me want to see him make an appearance in The Good Place – someone please make this happen!). Unfortunately, Jim’s time on the show is brief as Josh calls for a dismissal and Carol-Anne asks to be allowed to test the defense’s theory of the timeline – which leads to the previously discussed bait-and-switch cliffhanger.
Something else worth noting is how good the directing is in this show. For a comedy like Trial & Error to work, you need a few things: a good cast, good writing, and good directing. I talk about the writing and the acting all the time because it’s the stuff that’s easiest to point out, but it’s worth talking about the directing, too. Trial & Error has always featured good directing and tonight’s two episodes very much continued that trend. The directors of this show have to walk that fine balance between making sure the show still looks like a true-crime documentary while also helping to highlight the visual gags and keep the pace of the story moving along. Tonight’s directors Jeffrey Blitz (who directed both of last week’s episodes) and Yana Gorskaya (the main editor for the show, directing an episode for the first time!) do this splendidly. It’s so seamless and that’s half the reason the comedy works. The writing is great and the actors are great, but the directors help guide the actors into giving the performances that are needed for the story and script to work and then make sure that those great performances from the actors are captured by the cameras and (with the help of the fantastic editing/post-production team) make sure all of that is preserved in the final cut of the show. These two directors did that beautifully tonight. Every joke lands the way you want it to land because of the skill these directors have in directing comedy. They’re both perfect matches for this show and the show is better because of them. I really enjoyed Yana Gorskaya’s directing in A Hole in the Case. It was a really complicated script with a whole lot of twists and turns and she executed it beautifully, hanging onto each joke as long as it needed to be hung on to (the way she highlighted the “Josh Segal & Ass’s” card is a particular highlight) while also making sure the actual story was understandable and had a good flow. It’s easy to tell that she’s edited a lot of previous episodes because she has such a grasp on how to make this show from her work as an editor and she’s able to perfectly use that experience to perfectly craft a really compelling episode. I really hope she directs more episodes because she’s really good at it.
Before I wrap this review up, I do wanna take a second to address my previous criticism of the show’s handling of MTowne, the true-crime podcast parody, and the character of Nina Rudolph (played by Amanda Payton). In the context of the show that actually airs on NBC, they still aren’t doing much with the character nor are they doing much to satire the genre of true-crime podcasts the way they have been satirizing the genre of true-crime television. That was the case with the first two episodes and that’s still the case with tonight’s two. However, on Friday, July 20, the day after Lady, Killer premiered, NBC surprised everyone by launching an actual podcast of MTowne. It’s a podcast set within the universe of Trial & Error, narrated by Amanda Payton in character as Nina Rudolph. It’s exactly the same podcast we hear tiny clips from in the context of the episodes that air on NBC and that’s super exciting. This podcast does exactly what I wanted the show to do with MTowne. It satirizes the genre of true-crime podcasts in such a biting and funny way. There are ads that Nina has to read that go against something she’s literally just said (such as the airports in East Peck being good and many others), but she has to do it because they’re helping her pay the bills. The podcast is every bit as funny as the TV show itself and it’s a great complementary piece and I’m so glad NBC and the show’s creators have decided to make it. So far, the first two episodes of the podcast have offered some background information on both the characters in this season and the town of East Peck itself. The podcast has really helped Nina feel like more of an actual character – I just wish some of that character development was actually seen on screen. But these first two episodes of MTowne are utterly fantastic. They’re hilarious, offer biting satire of the true-crime podcast drama, further our understanding of East Peck and the world of Trial & Error in general, and are just an enjoyable time.
Like last week, this week’s episodes are strong. They’re quick paced, eventful, but still full of jokes. They move the plot along at a speedy rate but still give us plenty of time to get to know all of the characters and fall in love with them individually. I still love how it seems totally plausible that Lavinia could’ve killed her husband. I still wish they would do more with Nina within the context of the actual TV show so she could feel like more than just a love interest for Josh, but they are doing some of that with the MTowne podcast being released every Friday, so that’s not such a big deal; more of a minor annoyance, I guess. And it could easily be fixed in future episodes, so I hold faith! But on the whole, Trial & Error: Lady, Killer continues to be a very enjoyable show full of very enjoyable characters, a great mystery, and lots and lots of laughs!
“The Murder Clock”: 4 out of 5 wands
“A Hole in the Case” 4.5 out of 5 wands
NOTE: New episodes of the MTowne podcast are being released the day after the episodes they’re covering air on NBC. As new episodes of the podcast come out the day after the TV episodes air and I post these reviews right after the episodes air, I’ll cover new episodes of the podcast in my review of the following week’s episodes I’ll cover episodes 3 and 4 of the podcast in my review for episodes 5 and 6 of the TV series and so on and so forth. The final episodes of the podcast will be covered in a special review (that will also review the Mtowne podcast as a whole) that will be posted the day those episodes are available.
(All photos are by Sergei Bachlakov/Warner Bros/NBC)