Tuesday, April 29, 2014

REVIEW: 'Playing House' - Emma Moves Back to Her Connecticut Hometown to be with Pregnant Maggie in 'Pilot / Bird Bones'

USA's Playing House - Episode 1.01 Pilot / 1.02 Bird Bones

When mother-to-be Maggie ends her marriage, she turns to her best friend Emma for support. In order to help Maggie in her time of need, Emma gives up her successful business in China to return to their hometown, and help her friend raise her unborn baby.

At its center, Playing House is about two women who are floundering in life but at least have each other to face it with. Maggie suddenly finds herself 8 months pregnant and without a husband. Emma has spent 11 years at a Chinese business and the moment she messes something up she is forced out. They are two people who don't know what to do in life but as long as they have each other things aren't completely hopeless. It's two women trying to rediscover themselves just as they are about to bring a baby into the world. The baby is a very interesting complication for the show.

This two episode premiere isn't perfect. "Pilot" is a premise building episode while "Bird Bones" is much more overtly comedic. Comedy is fine. I like all the performers on Playing House a ton. And yet, the second episode basically losses the emotional reality that was on exhibit in the first. It's two people falling back into their comfort areas. Once Maggie and Emma are together again, it feels like a relationship with history. When they start making fun of the Lindsay Sloane character, it's just like two old friends reminiscing. That's a good quality to have. It establishes history and character bits. But it feels like it's suppose to be cringe humor and it's just not. It's awkward humor which I did laugh at but that laugh didn't come from a place of true hilarity - if that makes any sense at all.

It also lost the sense of franticness of Maggie and Emma trying to take back their lives. They were calm and rational while also being mean and judgmental. But then I look back at that great scene with the two of them inside the small house in the backyard. In a moment that was almost too on-the-nose but wasn't, it asserted just how valuable and honest this friendship is. It's two characters that belong with each other - just not in any kind of romantic way. 

Some more thoughts:
  • "Pilot" was written by Lennon Parham & Jessica St. Clair and directed by Jeffrey Blitz.
  • "Bird Bones" was written by Anthony King and directed by Jamie Babbit.
  • I loved that the show addressed the romantic tension between Maggie and Emma during the pilot. Yes, that aspect is there to their relationship but the show is also saying that it will never go there.
  • Keegan-Michael Key is a wonderful comedic actor who is keeping himself very busy this year - with Key & Peele, Fargo, Parks and Recreation and this. While he was enjoyable in his little subplot in "Bird Bones," it largely felt like the show just giving him something to do instead of feeling meaningful. Perhaps if he got more calls from the brunch about how it was going, it would have been better?
  • I'm just glad we won't have to sit through any more Chinese jokes. Those were bordering on racism that just made me uncomfortable.