While doing press in January for the third season of “Playing House,” co-creators, writers, stars and real-life best friends Jessica St. Clair and Lennon Parham hinted that they shared a major bonding experience that they had written into the show. But they decided to keep mum about it until early May, when St. Clair revealed in a post on the StandUp2Cancer website that she had underwent treatment for breast cancer, with her best friend by her side every step of the way.
The duo had worried that introducing such a serious storyline into the show wouldn’t feel organic or that it would overpower the comedy, but that fear was unfounded. “Playing House” is funnier, more in tune with its beating heart of comedy than ever, because of how the battle with cancer brought the two friends closer together.
Making the series after that was an exercise in gratitude, and the show exudes positivity, hope and joy through every line and scene. If anything, “Playing House” balances out its humor and multiple storylines so well that it’s actually easy to forget that the cancer plot is coming until it happens. And then bam — right there amidst the laughter — a feeling of being blindsided and stunned. And then come the tears.
Michael Yarish/USA Network
This is what sets “Playing House” and a few other powerful comedies apart from the pack — their ability to bring genuine pathos and character growth into a genre that usually favors cautious inertia. The series is fearless: It’s unafraid to change, to evolve, to grow up.
When the show began, Maggie (Parham) left her cheating husband just before she’s about to have their baby. Her best friend Emma (St. Clair) leaves behind her job overseas to move in with Maggie to help raise the baby together. But this season, it’s Maggie who’s supportive of Emma through the hard times. In between single motherhood and cancer, the friends are consistently there for each other through all the changes: reentering the world of dating (with a hot new British doctor played by Ben Willbond), turning 40, having a healthy relationship with exes, career changes, and raising children. Aging isn’t a cause for mourning or denial, but is celebrated and yes, mocked mercilessly.
Early on in Season 3, when Emma is considering sleeping with an ex she knew in high school, the following exchange takes place:
Real talk: do penises age? Asking for a friend.
Check out this first look at Season 3! We're dying a little with excitement. pic.twitter.com/TfxtuxfNo9
— Playing House (@PlayingHouseUSA) June 22, 2017
What’s beautiful about their relationship is that Maggie doesn’t even hesitate to answer in the most earnest and detailed manner possible. Oh yes, “Playing House” is crass, inappropriate, silly, but most of all vital. This season might be about embracing all the ups and downs of age 40, but it doesn’t act its age. Emma and Maggie’s lust for life and sharing is infectious, so much so that a new character introduced in the first episode gets visibly verklempt after hearing about the extent of the women’s friendship. Nobody is immune to the power of their triumphant and gleeful bond.
As strong as their friendship is though, it is not exclusive. Characters on the show get swept up in their wake, only to be embraced as extended family. And while some of the scenes featuring these characters without the benefit of the BFF presence or chemistry falter a bit, that too is part of the growing and learning process. This season we see more of exes Mark (Keegan-Michael Key), Bruce (Brad Morris), Zach (Zach Woods) and even Tina, aka “Bird Bones” (Lindsay Sloane), among a slew of others who are game to ditch their dignity for laughs. And in a way, we the audience are invited into that circle of friends as well.
Nicole Wilder/USA Network
St. Clair and Parham deciding to incorporate their partnered cancer battle into the show isn’t just brave or smart; it’s generous. And that’s true of how the show has operated from the beginning. Sure, their friendship is a pleasure to watch and even aspirational in its strength, but sharing it in all of its imperfect glory — warts, tumors and all — is the ultimate in honest communication, trust and building a community. We’ve been invited into the house to play, and it’s exactly where we want to be.
Watch this exclusive sneak peek of the bloopers from Episode 2 below: