TV show Playing House explores how fun life can be if you have your best girl by your side
Female friendships in Western television shows are having a bit of a moment. Unlike Pakistani television, where the last well-done depiction of friendship between two women was decades ago in the form of the inarguably wonderful friendship of Zoya and Angie in the 1980s classic Dhoop Kinaray (really, what is up with the lack of female friendships in contemporary Pakistani dramas? Somebody rectify this immediately), American TV suddenly has quite a few examples of lady friends being funny and fearless. From real-life comedy BFFs Tina Fey and Amy Poehler to the flawed but hilarious girlfriends of Broad City and Girls and the decade-long (and recently ended) friendship of the ‘twisted sisters’ Meredith and Cristina in Grey’s Anatomy, plenty of examples abound. But while female friendships are a staple of many sitcoms, new and old (Sex and the City and Friends come to mind), no show commits more fully or enthusiastically to being completely about the bond between two women than the recent cult hit Playing House.
Created and written by, and starring real-life best friends Lennon Parham and Jessica St. Clair, Playing House is about childhood besties Maggie and Emma, whose lives have diverged onto different paths but they remain as close as ever. While Emma is living a high-powered, career-driven life in Shanghai, Maggie has chosen to remain in their small hometown, is married and has a baby on the way. But when Maggie finds out her husband is having an affair on the Internet, she kicks him out and Emma, as best friends do, offers to quit her job and move in with her to help her raise the baby. Also around are Mark (Keegan-Michael Key), Emma’s upstanding and occasionally uptight high school sweetheart, and his wife (who Emma and Maggie used to pick on back in high school, calling her Bird Bones), Maggie’s weird but kind brother Zach (Zach Harper), and Emma’s overdramatic mother (Jane Kaczmarek).
The premise of the show is deceptively simple — two best friends hanging out and having fun, while taking a stab at motherhood — but it’s what makes the show so effective, especially since the friendship at the heart of the show is so authentically drawn. Emma and Maggie’s friendship has a certain comfort and lived-in quality — complete with rapid-fire banter full of inside jokes and pop culture references — that makes you want to be in the midst of their interactions. The fact that it’s written and created by actual best friends obviously gives the characters’ rapport an added credibility, and the actors’ history in improv comedy lends the show a zany, screwball edge, making it one of the funniest on air today. The show’s broader, wackier moments are grounded in the emotional depth of Emma and Maggie’s friendship — whether it is Emma helping Maggie through a freak-out moment about her impending motherhood or Maggie helping Emma deal with her complicated feelings for an ex who is now in her life again. The show proves that it can do serious, dramatic moments as effectively as it aces the comedy.
It also helps that the main duo is surrounded by an excellent supporting cast. Key, who is known for this recently ended sketch comedy show Key and Peele, is especially amusing as the ex-turned-town-cop who is perpetually exasperated by Emma and Maggie’s shenanigans but also has enough chemistry with Emma and a certain suave charm to make the arc of their will-they-won’t-they storyline compelling and fun to watch. The rest of the characters are as entertaining because the writing fleshes them out well and gives specificity to their individual uniqueness. With the second season just having concluded, and a total of only 18 episodes, now is the perfect time to catch up on this warm-hearted and hilarious show.
Published in The Express Tribune, Sunday Magazine, October 4th, 2015.