Lennon Parham and Jessica St. Clair's great new sitcom Playing House wrapped its first season last night exactly as you might expect. In part one, Parham's character Maggie gave birth with St. Clair's Emma by her side, and in part two, we got a look at what the show will look like post-baby, while dangling the plot thread of Emma's will-they-won't-they with now-married high school sweetheart Mark (Keegan Michael Key).
Now, on to the important business. USA, it's time to renew this show! I have no idea if this is even up in the air or more of a scheduling thing. The network already renewed its first sitcom, Sirens, which drew about an 0.5 rating in the demo in its Thursdays at 10 p.m. timeslot. Playing House does about the same on Tuesdays—usually drawing an 0.4, about the same as its lead-in of Modern Family re-runs. Given the critical support Playing House has gotten, I'd be surprised if USA doesn't pull the trigger on season two.
But that blessed announcement has not yet arrived, so while we wait for USA to do the right thing, let's celebrate what a positive addition to the sitcom world Playing House has been. Its pilot episode (which I reviewed here) did great work playing on St. Clair and Parham's chemistry, which has been built up over years of partnership at the UCB and on their short-lived NBC sitcom Best Friends Forever. But it also teased a fruitful small-town setting for the show to expand upon in its first ten episodes, which it did a very nice job of doing.
The show's central appeal certainly lies in its leads' chemistry, which would be impossible to duplicate. So many shows have tried the cliché of "friends so close, they might as well be a married couple!" but Playing House manages to pull it off by not even making a big deal about it. Yeah, of course Maggie and Emma are ridiculously close, and at the same time, of course they can pursue their own separate romantic interests, however shambolically they might go about that. The anchoring appeal of the show is that they can rely on each other—it's embarrassingly simple, but it's also what made Gilmore Girls, Playing House's most obvious inspiration, such a success.
I thought the finale might be Maggie giving birth, because what better way to cap a season than with a good old fashioned birthing episode, but the second part jumped forward six weeks to see Maggie struggling with motherhood and Emma wrestling with her relationship with Mark. It was a very wise call. Ending with baby Charlotte being born (after a bunch of amusing but un-dramatic little twists, like the OBGYN winning the lottery and skipping town) would have almost given Playing House the feeling of a miniseries; this way, we see what we have to look forward to next year (because there's going to be a next year, USA, you better pay attention).
It also let the show conclude on the image of Emma crying in the little red house on Maggie's lawn about Mark, and Maggie going to comfort her. For as much as the season arc was about Maggie's pregnancy, this is a show about the relationship between the two leads, and wrapping on that note capped a beautiful season for a good-old-fashioned, broad-appeal sitcom. Anyone watching Modern Family re-runs would definitely get a kick out of Playing House, but so would alt-comedy nerds who like watching a show populated with UCB alums.
So, you hear me, USA? I look forward to writing about Playing House's second season next year. Thanks!