Saturday, May 3, 2014

Pilot Talk 2014: Playing House

Every TV season, networks bring out a new crop of shows, in hopes that they'll be the next big hit.  Pilot Talk is devoted to figuring out whether these shows are worth your time based on the first episode.

Tuesdays at 10:00 PM on USA

Apparently, 2014 is the year for podcast favorites to make their TV breakouts.  First, there was Andy Daly, whose Review with Forrest Macneil just ended a debut season that solidified it as one of the highlights of 2014.  Now, it's time for Jessica St. Clair and Lennon Parham to shine.  The two of them are favorites amongst fans of Comedy Bang! Bang! for their zany characters, Marissa Wompler and Charlotte Listler, who've developed an elaborate and insane mythology over their many appearances.  This actually is the second TV show from the writing pair -- their first effort was the short-lived Best Friends Forever, which NBC cancelled after only a few episodes.  With a more refined premise and lower ratings expectations on the USA network, Playing House comes with the prospect of more success, and as a result a longer shelf-life, than its predecessor.

It's very clear that St. Clair and Parham's real life friendship informs their writing.  It was right there in the title of Best Friends Forever, and Playing House makes the dynamic between its two leads the main focus as well.  The first episode is a premise pilot, and if there's one fault to it, it's that it does a little too much to get the characters in the place that they'll be for the rest of the series.  After spending a few years doing business in China, Emma (St. Clair) returns back to her hometown for her best friend Maggie's (Parham) baby shower.  But when Maggie leaves her husband after discovering that he's been cheating on her, Emma decides to stay full-time and help her best friend raise the baby that's about to arrive.  Even typing those sentences was a chore, and the actual events are an example of the plot getting in the way of the comedy.

Not all of the comedy itself works either.  For example, the scenes in the beginning with Emma still in China seem a bit tone deaf with their racial humor.  However, in a genre where it usually takes a while to figure everything out, much of the material works surprisingly well.  The relationship between Emma and Maggie is particularly wonderful, and you can really see the chemistry between St. Clair and Parham shine through in their depiction of this friendship.  Fans of the two actresses will recognize some elements from their podcast appearances ("those mammer jammers could go all night," Parham's habit of singing along to cheesy old songs, etc.), but new viewers will be just as taken by their sharp comedic instincts and warm interactions.

Even more encouraging is that the second episode, which aired as a part of an hour-long premiere on Tuesday, is much better than the already-promising pilot.  Many second episodes of comedies just repeat the pilot, but "Bird Bones," shows the potential of what the show can do after all of the setup is out of the way.  The episode gives an increased role to Mark (the always funny Keegan-Michael Key), Emma's ex-boyfriend, and introduces his new wife Tina (Lindsay Sloane).  Sloane is hilarious as Tina, whom Emma and Maggie used to call "Bird Bones" in high school, due to the fact that she'd always get severe injuries from the most minor of scrapes.  Mark's storyline, which isolates the character from Maggie and Emma, shows that Playing House is capable of delivering laughs even when its two protagonists aren't onscreen.  The episode also does a good job of establishing the way the rest of the world views Maggie and Emma, which is with equal parts bemusement and frustration.  Their brunch with Bird Bones is sad and sweet, but most of all, it's extremely funny.  All of the pieces are there for Playing House, and if they just come together a bit more, then Parham and St. Clair could join Andy Daly in having one of the year's best new comedies.

Pilot Grade: B
Second Episode Grade: A-

No comments:

Post a Comment