Thursday, July 19, 2018

REVIEW: 'Trial & Error' - Josh Defends Lavinia After She's Arrested for Murder in 'The Suitcase' & 'The Timeline'

NBC's Trial & Error - Episodes 2.01 "The Suitcase" and 2.02 "The Timeline"

Josh gets his next case, defending Lavinia Peck-Foster, the eccentric First Lady of East Peck, who was found with her husband's corpse in a suitcase in her trunk. Complications and bodies keep piling up and there are more questions than answers. When the judge rules that Lavinia must stand trial, the team tries to poke holes in the timeline. When a clock is determined to be the murder weapon, they seek help from the convicted murderer of Lavinia's brother and the host of a popular murder podcast called M-Town.

The first season set the precedent of the audience being able to guess as to what actually happened in the central murder based on the clues and guesses presented in the premiere. It was in the very first episode that Dwayne suggested that Margaret Henderson was killed by an owl. It took until the finale to reveal that to be the true cause of her death as well. It was a surprising moment while also presenting a case to the audience that all of the clues were there from the beginning as to the true nature of this crime. It always seemed unlikely that Larry actually killed his wife because there were too many coincidences and misunderstandings that were piling up to be used against him in court. But the show took the characters and audience on an emotional journey. One that was both profound and funny to watch. As such, the audience is probably already looking for clues throughout "The Suitcase." Once again, it seems like one piece of dialogue here will eventually hold the key to the entire case. Of course, Dwayne doesn't present his latest wild theory until the second episode. This time it seems even more impossible. It's incredibly unlikely that Lavinia will be revealed as a vampire. That would be the show crossing into a different genre of storytelling altogether. But the show is still playing things in an extremely satirical vein. Lavinia is so larger than life and the world just seems to do everything for her except keep the people she loves from killing themselves or being murdered. A spotlight even magically shines on her when she is in the middle of a big musical moment. It only took the show two episodes to get Tony and Emmy winner Kristin Chenoweth to sing. It's a fantastic moment too even though it's mostly just distracting to the legal team. Moreover, it's important to note that everyone in town has to be considered a suspect because they were all invited to this lavish gala at Lavinia's mansion when her husband was killed. Anne being the last person to leave is vital to the timeline because it establishes that something must have happened between her leaving and Lavinia being pulled over with her husband's corpse in her trunk. As such, the audience should be looking at everyone with suspicion (except for Josh who wasn't invited). Everyone is on an even playing field when it comes to being a suspect in this latest case even though Lavinia is the one on trial.

Of course, there's also the worry throughout these opening episodes that Josh won't actually have to do much in order to get Lavinia acquitted. In the first season, the entire town was against Larry. Everyone in East Peck believed that he was guilty of killing his wife. Josh and his associates were the only ones who believed in him and fought to prove his innocence until the very end. Even then, the majority of the town still believe that Larry is guilty. That's mostly the only update given as to what has happened to the main players from last season. Larry and Summer aren't back to continue providing insight into the case and the town. Instead, that role is fulfilled by Lavinia who is just as big and eccentric as Larry was. The key difference is that she is beloved by the town. She is revered because she employs so many people while also giving back to the community. The police officer who pulls her over is willing to let her go with just a warning because she bought the entire police department new uniforms. It was all completely random when the body was found in her trunk. Sure, that also highlights just how impulsive and filled with rage Lavinia can be. She swears so much throughout these opening episodes. She presents herself as an innocent victim who is afraid of being left all alone in life. But she also has these high standards for her life and has some coarse language for those who aren't able to provide things as she expects them. She wants to just get away and not have to deal with any more from this officer. Instead, she is arrested for murder. But even that isn't a harrowing experience for her. She is treated like an absolute queen while in holding. Moreover, she's even able to contaminate what the police believe is the crime scene just because she wants to go for a swim. It's all so completely unexpected. It also proves that she doesn't even need to hire the best lawyer that money can afford. The premiere opens with a joke that it's funny that she hires Josh when the media wants her to get the best. He is just getting his practice started in East Peck. This is a huge case for him. But he also hasn't had to do much work just yet.

Sure, Josh has a huge hurdle that he needs to overcome when arguing this case. He can't understand the judge at all. Judge Kamiltow is so soft-spoken. Carol Anne and Lavinia understand him perfectly. He is even able to be manipulated into setting bail at ten dollars and then paying it himself for Lavinia. It seems like she is doing a much better job defending herself than Josh is. But that does start to fall apart as the episodes go along as well. In fact, Carol Anne gets an easy victory right away because she says that it's impossible for the trial to find a jury of Lavinia's peers who aren't personally connected to her in some way. The Peck family is so embedded in this community. They were its founders. They built it from the ground up. The potential jury is filled with so much love for Lavinia. Josh finds himself at a complete loss for figuring out how to best deal with the new tactics Carol Anne is using in the courtroom. Carol Anne believes she's in a loss-loss situation forced upon her by her opponent in the race for District Attorney. If she convicts Lavinia, she will be the person responsible for ruining the life of East Peck's biggest celebrity. And if she fails, then her opponent can say that she isn't tough on crime because the evidence was so glaringly pointing to Lavinia being responsible for murder. She doesn't believe that she can prevail. And yet, she is still able to use the tools at her disposal to effectively win her arguments. This season she also happens to be pregnant. That sends Josh spinning because he believes the baby is his even though she notes she was sleeping with multiple people seven months ago. It could be anyone even though the two of them continue to be constantly flirting with one another. But the pregnancy affords her new ways to gain sympathy from the judge while also providing new punchlines for her - like saying that she now has two brains instead of one. As such, she succeeds in getting the judge himself to determine the outcome of this case. That means more Judge Kamiltow and his soft-spoken nature which is already a running joke that has gotten stale.

And yet, Josh believes that the evidence is on his side in this case. Yes, Lavinia was found with the body in the trunk of her car as she was speeding away as quickly as she could. And yet, the water found in his lungs couldn't have come from the pool in her mansion. Sure, that portion of the mansion is more secluded than he was expecting. He doesn't know the kind of environment he is walking into because he wasn't invited to this elaborate gala. He is then forced into going into the pool while fully dressed as well. That's such a strange sight to behold. It proves that he is still embarrassing himself as a lawyer. But he still comes to the realization that the pool is filled with salt water and not the fresh water that was in Edgar's lungs. As such, this wasn't the crime scene. He believes that proves Lavinia is innocent. Of course, it doesn't because then the story would be over after one episode. Instead, it's revealed that this mansion also sits right next to the river. Moreover, there is just enough time for Lavinia to have gotten Edgar down there to kill him and back up to her car given the current timeline. That means things aren't looking so good for Josh in this case. He genuinely believes in Lavinia's innocence as well. She is such a different client than Larry. Josh has grown accustomed to openly embracing his clients to show that he loves and supports them. There is still some distance between him and Lavinia because she constantly just refers to him as "lawyer." And yet, he feels a close bond with her because she is opening up about all of these horrific acts of violence that have defined her life. He feels sympathy for her after learning that her father killed himself right in front of her and that her brother was also killed. She is now the only person left in her family. But it should also be clear to the audience that her priorities are slightly off because see sees her brother's killer surviving a life sentence as nothing more than a slap on the wrist.

It's also clear that the killer of Lavinia's brother, Jesse Ray, will be an important part of the story this year. He was Edgar's clock apprentice. And now, the case needs a clock expert because it appears that a clock was used to knock Edgar out before he was killed. That provides new evidence that Josh can use in order to best determine the timeline of this case. In fact, it leads to the revelation that there are actually two time zones in this town - one for East Peck and one for North Peck. That's a strange detail that still feels very amusing. The clock used to strike Edgar is also owned by someone else in town. As such, that's a compelling lead that Josh will feel the urgency to follow up on as soon as possible. This all continues to be evidence that he can use to prove that Lavinia is innocent of killing her husband. Sure, she can be a volatile woman who even throws a bunch of dishes at Josh at one point in "The Timeline." Moreover, a bunch of bodies are discovered on her property at the end of "The Suitcase." But those are just casually tossed away as being dead for over a hundred years and are the sins of her ancestors instead of proof that she's actually a killer. It's mostly just a cliffhanger ending in order to fuel the audience's motivation into starting the next episode. The same is also true with the reveal that Lavinia enjoys dressing up incognito and shoplifting. That is bound to make things more difficult for Josh as well. But that's also very exciting and amusing to watch.

Some more thoughts:
  • Amanda Payton also joins the cast this season as Nina, the host of a podcast called M-Town which is now covering Lavinia's trial. It's the show finding a new aspect of the true-crime genre to spoof this year. And yet, it doesn't feel all that necessary because the show already has the documentary aspect down at this point. That's the context through which everything is explained. Adding the podcast is just another tool to get characters into talking.
  • Thousands of words could be written just on Lavinia's wardrobe and accessories. That's such a defining aspect about her character here. It's just funny to see her in a turban and then a swimming cap. But that elegant pipe she is using to smoke is absolutely ridiculous. It's so outrageously over-sized. But the punchline of her smoking with Anne and Dwayne while Josh says the prosecution has no smoking gun in this case is priceless.
  • More of East Peck's odd laws are introduced here as well. Most notably are women not being able to publicly judge other women and women drivers needing to be preceded by men running in front of them waving red flags. The first is played as the town believing to be progressive while the other highlights just how misogynistic it actually is. Of course, it being a running joke this season could also be a key clue to the case.
  • Anne still has some delightful but strange afflictions that are currently plaguing her. However, they seem a bit more broad and implausible this time around. The first is her being able to jump to incredible heights when she is startled. The second is her just randomly starting to spontaneously combust especially if she has been drinking rum - which she now is thanks Lavinia's company in town.
  • It's absolutely a huge conflict of interest that Dwayne is employed by the police precinct of East Peck while still being the lead investigator for Josh. It affords him access to the evidence collected in the case. That means he's walking around with Edgar's watch and wallet - though he's notably not wearing a watch when he sees Jesse Ray. But Josh thinks all of this is okay because Dwayne isn't destined to last on the force because he keeps dropping his gun and it goes off.