There is nothing I love more in this world than remarkable female comedians. In recent years, the media has finally started to recognize the hilarious women who have been around for years, and young comic geniuses are being celebrated earlier than they ever would have in years past. It’s not like women up and became funny recently. Women have always been and will continue to be amazingly hilarious, yet they are only now beginning to get the screen time, projects, and attention they deserve. Movies like “Baby Mama,” “The Heat,” and “Bridesmaids” led the way for television shows like “The Mindy Project,” “Broad City,” and my personal favorite: the lesser known “Playing House.”
“Playing House” is a half-hour, single-camera comedy created by Lennon Parham and Jessica St. Clair that premiered on the USA Network this spring. This is the pair’s second show together after their great, yet short-lived, sitcom “Best Friends Forever,” which aired on NBC in 2012. This time around Lennon and Jessica reprise their roles as best friends. (Please note that I will refer to them by their first names because after watching both of their shows, I feel like they are my besties–—but more on that later.)
Depicting best friends is not too much of a stretch for the duo. After watching every single interview of them on YouTube, I learned that they met many years ago while they were two of only a few women performing at the Upright Citizens Brigade (UCB), a underground improv and sketch comedy theater in New York City. Jessica admired Lennon’s sweater set across a crowded room, and the rest is history. They have been writing, performing, and creating together ever since. UCB clearly had a profound effect on the duo because, as I learned, Lennon and Jessica write by improvising. In their improv, Lennon plays all the male roles while Jessica handles all the female parts. They use their improv as a first draft and work from there. This is not a common writing practice, but I think it’s what gives the show its sparkling energy and sense of togetherness, which is part of what makes it so special.
In “Playing House,” Jessica plays Emma, a businesswoman who returns from China to the small Connecticut town she grew up in to attend her best friend Maggie’s baby shower. Their first scene together in the pilot is a moment in the car where Jessica uses Maggie’s large pregnancy breasts as a microphone to belt out Kenny Loggins’ “Celebrate Me Home.” At this point everything is joyful because when Jessica arrives Maggie is a happily married woman; however, during the course of the festivities, iCloud exposes some of her husband’s adulterous internet activities. This leaves Maggie newly single and eight months pregnant. So Emma decides to leave her life in Shanghai for the town she abruptly left 13 years ago to help the most important person in her life raise a baby.
I love shows where the characters genuinely love each other, and that’s why I’m enthusiastic about “Playing House.” Even just from reading the premise, it is clear that this show is rooted in loyalty and friendship, and in my opinion that makes it such a pleasure to watch. Of course, the women are also spectacularly hilarious. I love the running jokes about how Emma’s broad shoulders and love of blazers lead an old woman in the town to think she’s a man and Maggie’s returning male alter ego, Bosephus, a crusty, dirty southerner, which amusingly juxtaposes Maggie’s sweetness.
In addition, they have an episode titled “Totes Kewl.” The use of abbreviations in a serious context (this one being the duo falling for the same guy) by anyone over 13 years old is painfully funny. These women are obviously comedic gold, but in the end, what makes this show so wonderful is its ability to never get negative just for a laugh. So much of comedy these days comes from people ripping on each other, especially between friends. But these women are able to point fingers at themselves and laugh at their own flaws without ever doing it to each other for the sake of a joke. If they do call each other out, it is in a way that further develops their characters and their friendship.
“Playing House” is first a story of true female friendship and second a comedy. And in my opinion, that fact makes the comedy sparkle even more; as a viewer, you feel like you are laughing at an inside joke shared with your own friends. And there is nothing better than feeling like something as broad and widespread as a television show was written just for you. Thanks, Jess and Lennon, for creating a nugget of sweet genius.