Tuesday, April 29, 2014

'Playing House'

Usually when Jessica St. Clair or Lennon Parham pop up as guest stars on some comedy show or in supporting roles in movies, I'm happy to see them. They contribute something sharp and funny and then bow out at exactly the right time. I'm less enamored of the projects that have the pair as the main focus; a little of them goes a long way, especially when they're teamed together. I thought their short-lived NBC sitcom Best Friends Forever was pretty grating, and their new USA sitcom, Playing House, is only slightly more tolerable. Like Best Friends Forever, it features the two creators/stars as best friends who move in together after one of them experiences a personal crisis; in this case, Maggie (Parham) is pregnant when she discovers that her husband is having an online affair, and so her best friend Emma (St. Clair) moves in to help her get through the pregnancy and raise her child.

Presumably the show's focus will shift a bit once the baby's born, but for now it's a buddy comedy much like Best Friends Forever, and like that show its main problem is that St. Clair and Parham's characters are completely obnoxious. I've seen a few articles recently praising the duo's portrayal of female friendship, and they do have a convincing bond (they're best friends in real life, too). But they reinforce each other's most irritating qualities, and while they may offer a realistic look at the strong dynamic between platonic female partners, it doesn't really matter when those partners are shrill and unfunny.

Playing House is less crass and annoying than Best Friends Forever, and when it focuses on the emotional connection between Maggie and Emma, it can be sort of sweet. But as a comedy, it's mostly a failure, especially when it comes to portraying any characters other than the central duo. The second of two episodes provided for review tries to feature Keegan-Michael Key's Mark, a small-town cop and Emma's ex-boyfriend, in his own subplot, but the writers clearly have no idea what to do with him as an independent character. St. Clair and Parham have a good handle on their own relationship, but maybe they need to stop trying to make sitcoms about it.

Premieres tonight at 10 p.m on USA.

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