Trial & Error: Lady, Killer
(NBC, July 19, 9 p.m. ET)
Kristin Chenoweth, who turns 50 on July 24, had a blast playing batty heiress Lavinia Peck Foster in Trial & Error: Lady, Killer, busted for a broken taillight and a corpse in her trunk on this true-crime spoof slightly inspired by the documentary The Jinx, which got zillionaire murder suspect Robert Durst in hot water. “Lavinia’s the first lady of East Peck, S.C., and she’s a bit of everything,” Chenoweth says. “She’s Durst, a crazy narcissist [who, like Lavinia, donned outrageous disguises to elude people], and she’s cool, calm and collected like Hannibal Lecter. There’s a little bit of Patricia Altschul from Bravo’s show Southern Charm, and also Amanda Knox — that girl who didn’t do the crime, but she sure knew how to turn it on and win.” Rich and stuck in a big lonesome house like a bird in a gilded cage, Lavinia also incorporates the leading ladies of Chenoweth’s hometown, Broken Arrow, Okla. “There’s lots of women I’ve met from Oklahoma — and, frankly, Texas — who are a lot like Lavinia," she adds. "They’re revered in their community. People in court throw flowers at Lavinia, and she exits singing. And gives herself three encores.”
If it sounds tasteless to spoof actual murders … it is, but Trial & Error is too frothy and wacky to get offended about. In the previous season, with John Lithgow spoofing The Staircase, about wife-murder suspect Michael Peterson, even Peterson said, “I really enjoyed it. I thought the characters hysterical.” And Chenoweth (Wicked, Glee) is even more over-the-top dramatic than Lithgow. “It’s Mel Brooks territory, completely out of the box,” Chenoweth says. “Lavinia acts about 14 to 16 years old — she’s probably 112, but she doesn’t look a day!”
The show is part of Chenoweth’s master plan for grownup success, instead of endlessly singing “Glitter and Be Gay.” “My days of singing that are behind me. I did it at the perfect age, but I’m not a woman of 30, you know?” A coloratura soprano whose lower register is getting more interesting with time, she could sing it now, “but it would be just merely to show off. I’d rather find other ways of doing that.” Like singing the songs she never could touch before: “The Man That Got Away” or “Desperado.” “Peggy Lee’s ‘Is That All There Is?’ — now I understand that song. Life happened, and songs that didn’t make any sense to you before suddenly make sense.” Now she favors classic tunes (like “A Bird in a Gilded Cage” on Trial & Error), and eagerly anticipates her remake of Death Becomes Her as a musical, in the role of Meryl Streep’s youth-craving actress from the film. “I think it could be good.”
Is Lavinia guilty? “I can neither confirm nor deny,” Chenoweth says. “The killer could have been any of three people. But she is guilty of being dramatic.”
(Acorn TV, July 16, stream anytime thereafter on Acorn.tv)
If you liked HBO’s Sharp Objects, try this marvelous eight-part BBC series about a sleuth (Sian Reese-Williams) who returns to her hometown in spectacular northwest Wales to investigate a murder involving a girl who does self-cutting, a mad bad guy who imprisons women, irritating his monstrous mom, and some colorfully menacing locals. It’s not just a routine procedural, but more a whydunit with rich characters, plenty of suspense and eye-poppingly gorgeous locations that will make you want to drop everything and take a Welsh vacation. Hidden follows the BBC’s Welsh detective hit Hinterland, and some say it will be the next Broadchurch-sized smash. Americans may wish the last episode didn’t stretch out the finale the way Brits like, but if you start watching Episode 1, good luck trying to stop.
Robin Williams: Come Inside My Mind
(HBO, July 16, stream anytime thereafter)
Don’t worry, this documentary about the legendary comic and actor doesn’t dwell too depressingly on his 2014 suicide, at 63, after a diagnosis of terminal Parkinson’s disease (which turned out to be Lewy body dementia). It’s about his manic mind at its most creative, illuminated by rare archival footage, interviews with Williams, clips from his brilliant films and TV appearances, and moving and insightful testimony by his dear friends and colleagues (Steve Martin, David Letterman, Whoopi Goldberg, and father figure Billy Crystal), and his incredibly forgiving first wife and son. It does show the dark side — the multiple adulteries that damaged his marriage, the addiction that kept bedeviling him — but it’s a life-affirming film. It even has some news: First wife Valerie Velardi says Williams did not cheat on her with second wife Marsha Garces, their nanny. The very private family simply refused to refute this popular story until now. This film helps bring Williams’ troubled heart and inimitable mind into sharper focus.