Emma and Maggie are lifelong best friends, the sort of true friends who show up at the other’s home in the middle of the night with a body bag and shovel and ask no questions.
They love each other unconditionally, as childhood friends can even when their lives have gone in very separate directions as they have on USA Network’s “Playing House,” premiering Tuesday, April 29.
“I feel like Jessica (St. Clair, who plays Emma) and I have been charged, in the greater scheme, of putting our version of joy into the world,” Lennon Parham (“Accidentally on Purpose”), who plays Maggie, tells Zap2it.
“And I think it is an important job,” Parham continues. “And from the Twitter responses we got with ‘Best Friends Forever’ and the small feedback we are getting as the show is meted out, I think people are seeing themselves in the show and enjoying seeing female friendship portrayed in the way it really is. There are ups and downs, and you have each other’s backs — and not that catty girl friendship you see a lot. And to bring joy and friendship and stories people can relate [to] and feel with their BFFs.”
The two actresses are best friends, and they created the show together. Parham recalls, “In the summer of 2012 — and we do as we do when we get together to brainstorm an idea — we were both probably eating grilled cheese and watching ‘Oprah’s Favorite Things,’ so it will never end, and we both brought a few things to the table of what we wanted our next project to be. And Jessica said, ‘What if we raised a baby together?’ “
In the very funny pilot, Emma is an executive in a business meeting in China, trying to extricate herself so she can get on a plane to Connecticut.
There, she returns to Maggie’s home just in time for the baby shower. This becomes the sort of baby shower where, if it were recorded, it would go viral instantly. It is not intended for anyone who is easily offended or who finds PG humor blue.
The women at the shower are watching a montage of baby photos on the flat-screen TV that is connected through the WiFi in the house. Maggie’s husband is in the basement, on his laptop, which winds up overriding what the women are watching at the shower. Let’s just say that what some men do online, in their basements, is best left unknown. In this case, though, it is pretty funny.
It also leads to Maggie throwing him out of the house, which she can do because it is her home, inherited after her parents died.
Now Maggie needs Emma. Maggie needs her to help raise the baby; Emma needs Maggie as well. She needs a life beyond boardrooms and a dictatorial boss. But Emma had fled small-town Connecticut for a reason.
“I grew up in this little town where people knew your business,” St. Clair says of her character. “I left because I never felt like I totally fit into this town and felt I was destined for more international things. I lived this fab life in China. And it was kind of empty, but I am coming home.”
The town she fled is based on Stonington, Conn., and Emma is not particularly keen to excavate her past. Of course she immediately runs into Mark (Keegan-Michael Key, “Key & Peele”), her high-school boyfriend, who’s now a cop married to a delicate creature, Tina (Lindsay Sloane).
In the second episode, Maggie and Emma visit Tina, who has an addiction to shopping on QVC, is manic about how she keeps her perfect home and, as she was in high school, is prone to injury. Even when Maggie and Emma revert to being the less-than-sensitive girls they were in high school, they still help Tina.
“Some of the episodes feel very ‘Laverne & Shirley,'” St. Clair says. “When we get caught in her shower, the whole episode gets played in her house. One of my favorites is called ’37 Weeks.’ And it was right before Lennon gives birth so we all have to come together and get the house painted, and all these secrets come together. There is almost a Woody Allen feeling to it.”
Both of the best friends recently had babies, and Parham’s pregnancy happened to coincide with the show, so that is not a fake belly she’s wearing.
Rather than trace their friendship to childhood, Parham and St. Clair met while they were studying improv in New York. They had an earlier NBC comedy called “Best Friends Forever,” and the two are the sort of best friends who finish each other’s sentences.
“What makes the show different is you will laugh your ass off,” St. Clair says, “But you will also cry. It’s kind of like a throwback to the old generation of ‘Golden Girls’ and ‘Kate & Allie’ and ‘I Love Lucy.’ At the end of the day, these people really care about each other. It makes us feel good to write it. You feel better after you watch this show. There is no snarkiness to it.”