'Playing House' series on USA a real-friend affair

The Fresno BeeApril 28, 2014 

PASADENA — Lennon Parham and Jessica St. Clair knew from the start which character they would play in their new comedy series "Playing House." Parham would be the more stable one of the two best friends, who is on the verge of having her first baby. St. Clair would be the jet-setting business wiz who is on the verge of her first martini of the day.

That was good thinking. Because as soon as the USA Network ordered the series, Parham got pregnant. She was only days away from giving birth during the filming of the first episode.

"It was a real situation,a perfect storm for comedy," Parham says.

It was St. Clair who almost took the perfect out of the storm. She was three-months pregnant when they shot the first episode. A few months later and the series might have had a whole different story line. Once the first episode was filmed, the writing and comedy pair were able to get the network to delay putting the show on the schedule long enough to give St. Clair the chance to have her baby.

The show tells the story of childhood best friends — Maggie Caruso (Parham) and Emma Crawford (St. Clair) — who end up living together to raise Maggie's baby. The dad no longer is in the picture because of an online fetish. The decision initially is tough on Emma, who leaves the international corporate world to move back to the hometown filled with all her secrets.

This won't be a case of waiting years for the baby to arrive. The birth is planned in episode nine. There's plenty of comedy to be mined before they get to the baby stuff.

"Basically we kind of had a decision to make in the writers' room whether or not we were going to have the baby right away and then see what life is like after,but we found that there was a lot of fun to be had with her being pregnant," St. Clair says.

Creating and writing the show has been easy for the pair, who were real-life friends long before they started working together. Georgia-native Parham and New Jersey-born St. Clair were members of the Upright Citizens Brigade Theatre in New York, where they started performing together before becoming a writing team. A lot of their writing consists of sitting around in their pajamas improvising scenes.

"Like we're insane peop-le. We tape-record it,and then we transcribe it.  That becomes the transcript for the first draft," St. Clair says.

All of the years working together has given them a sense of what makes the other one laugh. They also have a room full of writers and producers. St. Clair jokes that because they are both new moms, they are usually too tired to fight about something they've written.

"Playing House" isn't the first series created by the pair. Their "Best Friends Forever" series didn't live up to its name and was off the air after seven episodes. They're certain this series will have a better fate. The new show does what the pair wanted to do — explore female friendship in a realistic way.

"With this show we're really tapping into where we are right now and the storytelling that we want to tell.  I think comedy really comes best out of a place of truth.

"Both of us were just pregnant for 10 months.Both of us are new moms, and both of us are living this best-friend, mid-30s story," Parham says.

Show info

"Playing House": 10 p.m. today on USA Network


TV and movie critic Rick Bentley can be reached at (559) 441-6355, rbentley@fresnobee.com or @RickBentley1 on Twitter. Read his blog at www.fresnobeehive.com.

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