The 2014 television saw the death of two the medium’s finest examples of female friendship: Grey’s Anatomy’s Cristina Yang and Meredith Grey, and Parks and Recreation’s Ann Perkins and Leslie Knope. But thankfully, the season’s demises bring new pairs or worthy successors to take their place: Abbi and Ilana of the incredible Broad City, and Emma and Maggie of Playing House. Like Abbi and Ilana, Maggie and Emma work as characters because their friendships feel real and lived in. Both sets deal in the everyday rather than the extraordinary—although Broad City’s endgames tend to have a more surrealistic bent. But it’s the central love story between these sets of women that make their shows funny, not necessarily what they do. To cap of their wonderful first season, Maggie and Emma bring an unforced poignancy to their relationship that would not work for Abbi and Ilana, giving the show an emotional heft that Broad City never seeks. The finale points to an emotional maturity at work in Playing House that points to how special this show is.
All of the events in “Let’s Have a Baby,” the first of the two Playing House finales, have been done before: the surly front desk ER nurse, the too-late requests for epidurals, the oops-we’re-not-really-gay-but-we’re going-to-pretend-we-are conundrum. But at no point during the episode does that ever really matter. Take the latter claims of false lesbianism, a trope that has expanded to an encompass an entire television series: Maggie’s OB/GYN Dr. Jay (Garcelle Beauvais) mistakes Maggie and Emma’s platonic closeness for a romantic one (a gag that could have been made all season, but was mercifully used sparingly). It’s not that Emma and Maggie don’t have the opportunity to correct Dr. Jay, but instead they both revel in their lie.The stakes are low—they really just want Dr. Jay to like them—yet they continue to push the limits. Emma donned a tankini for their wedding day, Maggie prefers Hugo Boss capris, all in an effort to get an invite to Block Island. This is a scene that works not because of what is happening but because of who these people are and how their affability has grown over a short 10-episode arc.
The solid female friendship was already in place in the pilot episode; there’s a reason people keep giving series stars Jessica St. Clair and Lennon Parham television shows. But as the season has progressed, the other supporting characters, like Mark (Keegan-Michael Key) and Zach (Zach Harper), have carved their own niches alongside that driving central friendship. Hopefully others (Sandy Martin’s Mary Pat Caruso, Gerry Bednob’s Mr. Najiani) will follow suit if USA grants Playing House a second season and Parham and St. Clair are given an opportunity to expand their Connecticut small town. Given room to grow, Playing House’s greatest asset—that central relationship—becomes even better. While Parham and St. Clair already established their almost preternatural chemistry with Best Friends Forever, they had, as of yet, been unable to hit the heights of Maggie’s labor scene, where Emma brings up the highly inappropriate image of Maggie’s parents’ funeral during her time of crisis. It works because Emma knows Maggie so well, and we’ve grown to know them. Playing House may be treading on the pregnancy turf of many movies and sitcoms before it, but few of those predecessors reached the poignancy of Emma telling her Maggie, her best friend, that she can make it.
“Let’s Have a Baby” seemed the like natural finale for the first season of Playing House and I wonder why the decided to close with “Bugs in Your Eyes.” Perhaps, it was a reassurance that the show could continue past the labor pains or to bring Maggie and Emma back to the natural state of leaning on each other in the possibly-raccoon infested miniature house in their backyard. Emma has put her life on hold to help Maggie, and now it’s Maggie’s turn. The episode was a solid effort but Playing House was always at its peak when Maggie and Emma were together playing off each other, rather than separating them to further romantic entanglements and hustle bilingual pool games. The end of the episode careened around the impromptu village that is helping Maggie raise her child, showing the constructed family that will come together to support young Charlotte. But the strongest family unit features just the three women who can fit into that possibly-raccoon infested house in Maggie’s backyard.
- “It’s not magic, just an understanding of the female form. This is magic.” “A Starburst!”
- “No one is interested in seeing you areolas in their inbox.” “Well, that’s not true.”
- “Speaking of rolled meats, I’d like to wear a kilt because it’d be great to have some bagpipes at this thing.” “Do you have a problem?” Brad Morris and Jane Kaczmarek for Playing House secret MVPs.