Full disclosure: we here at spunkybean are big fans of the two stars of Playing House, Jessica St. Clair and Lennon Parham. We are proud members of the small audience that adored their last series, Best Friends Forever. But with this new series, debuting tonight on USA Network at 10 pm, we think they might just have a better chance at success. The concept is similar in some ways to BFF, but this one is perhaps more well-rounded, set in a quirky small town rather than a generic big city, a backdrop that has been done to death. Quirky small towns come up a lot in sitcoms, too, but if they have the right combination of characters and stories, they are easier to differentiate from everything else.
Playing House revolves around best friends Maggie (Parham) and Emma (St. Clair). While Emma is a successful businesswoman in China, Maggie is married and expecting back in their small Connecticut hometown. In the opening sequence, Emma barely makes a plane back to the U.S. for Maggie’s baby shower, and things spiral from there. First, there’s her contempt for the town itself, the fact that she didn’t even tell her mother she was coming home (so we can assume there are big issues there) and the awkward run-ins with her ex, Mark (played by Key & Peele’s Keegan Michael Key) who is now a cop. Obviously Emma has left this place behind for a lot of reasons, and only Maggie could convince her to return.
We get to meet Maggie’s goofy brother, played by former Office supporting player (and current Silicon Valley star) Zach Woods, as well as her husband, who spends a lot of time in his mancave. Rather than spoiling the events of how Emma comes to stay in town rather than head back overseas, I think you should watch them unfold in the pilot because they are both funny and cringeworthy. St. Clair and Parham, best pals in real life, have such a easy rapport that their actions make total sense. And, given the circumstances, the developments are pretty believable, too. The test will be to see how the post-pilot episodes build on the situation and mine comedy from pregnancy, birth, singlehood, crazy family members, first loves and wacky small-town hijinks.
Another strength the show has is that the cast (including upcoming guest stars) is stacked with improv professionals. The pilot had a good mix of sitcom tropes and improv bits that were integrated into the script. The writers here clearly know how to craft a joke and deliver it, allowing for breathing room as well. While there’s some of the uncomfortable comedy that has been a hallmark of the medium in the last decade, there’s also a sweetness at the core and a high likability quotient among the players. Keeping all that balanced will be the key to making Playing House a success. Should it find an audience, we think it has the storytelling potential to run for a good long time.