‘Playing House’ Pilot Gives Us Friendship, Raccoons and Grade A Comedy

Playing House Episode 1 & 2 Pilot/Bird Bones (11)

There is a reason series centered around friendships, like Friends and How I Met Your Mother, end with the individuals pairing off into nuclear families. The expectation for most adults is romantic love is more important than all other forms of love, aside from the love between parents and their children. Growing up in fiction is often signified by letting go of friends, or at least widening the gap between them by physical displacement with a spouse stepping up to fill the gap. USA’s new comedy Playing House handily rejects the notion that the bond of friendship has to lessen by inverting the trope, removing the spouse and replacing him with the best friend. And it is glorious.

From Lennon Parham and Jessica St. Clair (who are a lesser known, but no less funny version of Amy Poehler & Tina Fey), Playing House centers on best friends Maggie (Parham) and Emma (St. Clair). Maggie is eight months pregnant and the impending birth of her child draws Emma away from her high-powered job in China in order to return to her hometown and visit Maggie. Because Parham and St. Clair are best friends and writing partners in real life, the friendship feels rich immediately. From an opening phone conversation where Maggie calls Jessica out for still being at the office to their reunion which involves Jessica using one of Maggie’s breasts as a microphone, everything about how these two women interact is authentic, honest and hilarious.

Parham and St. Clair also created the short-lived gem Best Friends Forever for NBC, and this series has a similar, albeit more grounded style. I was surprised by how genuinely emotional many of the beats were. In a 30 minute time frame the pilot has to upset Maggie’s marriage and create a scenario where Emma would give up her job to help her friend raise a baby. That is no easy task, but the scene that cinches it is subtle and remarkable– and no, I am not gong to spoil it here.

Do not mistake the series’ sentimentality for a lack of humor though. The pilot is packed with laughs. There is physical comedy in the form of raccoon wrangling combined with the rapid fire, improv dialogue these two writers/actors are known for. Keegan-Michael Key (half of Key & Peele) co-stars as Emma’s former high school sweetheart and their reunion is hilariously awkward. “I just tipped an invisible cap at the man I lost my virginity to,” Emma half groans after the encounter only to have Maggie teasingly tip her own imaginary cap at her in return.

That is just one example of the ease with which this cast interacts. The disastrous baby shower is another example of the range of comedy Playing House displays. Within moments we go from standard sitcom cuteness (baby diaper derby) to deadpan humor (“This one is real poop! Just kidding, it’s Almond Joy”) to the very best kind of absurdity as Maggie’s husband’s secret comes out at the worst possible moment.

What makes Playing House a triumph of comedy and friendship is the way it goes all in on Emma and Maggie’s commitment. The series reminds us that no matter how old we get or who comes into our lives, our best friends are vital. When everything falls apart they are the ones who are willing to stand by you and pick up the pieces. Too often television reinforces the idea, particularly where women are concerned, that past a certain age having it all means having everything but a strong female support system to back you up. Playing House celebrates the bond between friends with just the right balance of humor, silliness and sweetness. With two sharp comedic creators guiding the series both in front of and behind the camera, I cannot imagine Playing House being anything other than a winner for USA.

Playing House premieres with back-to-back episodes tonight, Tuesday, April 29th at 10PM on USA.

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