Review: This time, BFFs are 'Playing House'

Robert Lloyd
Contact ReporterLos Angeles Times Television Critic
'Playing House': 'Best Friends Forever' costars Lennon Parham & Jessica St. Clair reteam in an enjoyable show.

Two long or short years ago, Lennon Parham and Jessica St. Clair costarred in an NBC series I happened to review. Based on the six-episode order, and its being the sort of "relatively realistic comedy [the network] greenlights to its own later confusion," I predicted correctly that "Best Friends Forever" would run for something short of forever.

I also predicted that you would see the actresses again, and — abracadabra — here they are, in "Playing House." I am available for private readings.

Their likable new series, "Playing House," which premieres Tuesday on the less frantic USA network, walks very much in its predecessor's steps. Where in the earlier series St. Clair moved across the country to live with best friend Lennon (and Lennon's boyfriend) after her marriage ended, here she moves halfway around the world to live with best friend Lennon, who is pregnant, after Lennon's marriage ends.

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Lennon and Parham met as performers at the Upright Citizens Brigade, the Grand Central Station of modern comedy, and here as before, there is an improvisational tinge to the comedy, so that sometimes they sound less like a high-powered businesswoman and her small-town high school friend than a couple of old pros volleying quips at the Friars Club.

As at the Friars, the humor gets low at times, but the characters themselves do not; which is not to say that they keep their dignity. The conversation is long on riffing and syntactically comical constructions like "I think he prefers Germans because of their husky nature" and "Congrats and mazels to you guys."

This time, we are in a small town in Connecticut, from which St. Clair's character, who is Emma, happily escaped into a world of big business, and where Lennon's character, who is Maggie, feels very much at home. Comedy will proceed from this difference.

Also around are Keegan-Michael Key (of "Key & Peele") as Emma's old boyfriend, now a policeman married to a woman they called Birdbones (Lindsay Sloane). Gangly Zach Woods (formerly of "The Office," now of "Silicon Valley") plays Maggie's brother, whom I would describe as a "Zach Woods sort." Jane Kaczmarek is slated to play Emma's mother, which just makes the series easier to recommend.

It's a lively show, and at times a lovely one. (See the "Birdbones" episode, in which the stars find the human being in a girl they used to be mean about.) There is something invigorating, even joyful, in watching the rites of friendship enacted by actual friends.

It's a kind of two-for-one enjoyment, that works whether you're conscious of the players or the parts they're playing. And with "Broad City" settling in on Comedy Central, a Garfunkel & Oates series due from IFC later this year, and "Ghost Ghirls" waiting for you on Yahoo Screen, it feels right to ask whether, if not state definitively, that female friends represent the new power modality in comedy.

"Soromance," is that a word yet? Lucy and Ethel forever.


'Playing House'

Where: USA

When: 10 and 10:31 p.m. Tuesday

Rating: TV-14-LS (may be unsuitable for children under the age of 14 with advisories for coarse language and sex)

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