Tuesday, September 8, 2015

REVIEW: 'Playing House' - Maggie and Emma Celebrate Their Friendship in 'Officer of the Year' & 'Celebrate Me Scones'

USA's Playing House - Episode 2.07 "Officer of the Year" & 2.08 "Celebrate Me Scones"

Emma organizes a policeman's ball with help from Maggie and Rabbi Dan. Mark doesn't have a date. Maggie surprises Emma with tickets to a special concert. An old friend returns.

It's surprising and somewhat disappointing that Playing House has already reached the end of its second season. That's what happens when the season is only eight episodes long and the network airs them across six consecutive weeks. The time just flies by. This has been such a phenomenal season too. This show has such a strong hold on its very specific tone. It mixes outrageous situational humor with genuine emotional so well and so seamlessly. These final two episodes of the season are some of the best the show has ever done. They are ridiculous and over-the-top funny but they are also just so special. The humor and emotion of this show is truly something great.

Playing House has always been at its best when it's about the celebration of female friendship. Maggie and Emma are such great characters. They support each other no matter what. Their lives are chaotic but with each other they have the support they need to get through all of it. That is very aspirational and inspirational. They have each other's backs. Even when they are standing in front of the other baring all of their emotions, they are there with the exact advice they desperately need to make sense of the situation. Maggie and Emma are there for each other when they need it the most. This year together has changed their lives for the better.

Maggie and Emma are both growing as human beings. They are raising a phenomenal daughter. They are also pursuing the things they want in life. Sometimes that's very scary and daunting. They don't want to repeat the mistakes of the past or let each other down. Everyone is friends in this town. But it's still so nerve-wrecking to put oneself out there. There's a vulnerability on display in these episodes that's emotionally honest and heart wrenching. It taps into the common human experience in such a real and beautiful way. Things are always going to be uncertain. But the support of friends and family is what will get anyone through it.

Emma is really happy in her relationship with Rabbi Dan. She's learning how to be her genuine self with him. They just got back from a weekend together. And yet, she is still being pulled to Mark for some reason. This whole season has been building to some big moment between the two of them. As much as they don't want to admit it, there is still an attraction between them. They don't know how to feel about it. But it's making both of them act irrationally. Emma doesn't want to hurt Dan. She really does care about him and he hasn't done anything to turn her off from the relationship. But Mark continues to represent a life she could have lived if she hadn't left Pinebrook for China all those years ago. He is finally single again and getting even more recognition for his work as a police officer. He is still dealing with his divorce. But the allure of Emma is calling to him as well.

Emma and Mark have a moment at the policeman's ball. They both have expressed their feelings to Maggie. And now, they are trying to be good people while still admitting to having these feelings. They both want this to happen but the scars of the past are keeping them from acting on it. They don't want to hurt anyone else. But more importantly, they don't want to get hurt themselves. They ended things badly the first time. They didn't speak for years. They have finally gotten back to a place of friendship. Now, the potential of a relationship is appealing to them. But that brings up the bad feelings from before. They aren't able to decide anything or finish their conversation because Emma is whisked away by a conga line. She leaves just like she did all those years ago. After that, Mark avoids her - until they are forced to talk in the finale. This relationship feels real and that's terrifying. Mark is standing on the porch in the end wanting to talk with Emma. But the audience doesn't know what he's going to say - or what she will. It's a big romantic moment to end the season on. It promises some happiness between the two of them in the future. They both want it. Now they just need to act on it.

As important as the Mark-Emma relationship is (and how fantastic Keegan-Michael Key was this season), Playing House is always at its best when it focuses on the bond Maggie and Emma have. That's what this finale is ultimately about. It's a celebration of all the great things that have happened over these two seasons (and one year in the show's timeline). Maggie wants to do something to show Emma just how much she appreciates everything she has done for her. This journey has been difficult at times. But now, everyone is in a place of relative stability and happiness. She wants to surprise Emma with Kenny Loggins tickets and a special song dedication. Of course, certain events happen that get in the way of things going as planned. It leads to the rousing return of Bosephus and Jandana as they scheme to get into the concert. It then works too well. They actually get to meet Kenny Loggins but their impromptu freakout gets them thrown into a cell and away from the concert. It's there that the two have their big moment together of celebrating and appreciating each other. It is beautiful to watch.

It's also great to know that things have a way of magically working themselves out in the end. Mark gets Maggie and Emma out of the cell while Zach gets them onto Kenny's tour bus. Kenny really was touched by the letter Maggie wrote about Emma. That leads to a nice simple song between the three of them. It was a wonderful triumph for the season. The future may be uncertain. Emma doesn't know if something will happen with Mark and whether it will actually be good. Maggie is doing her best to become a nurse but she doesn't know how that will go either. But the two of them will always have each other to look out for their best interests. And sometimes, they'll just get to sing "Celebrate Me Home" with Kenny Loggins. This season was purely magical.

Some more thoughts:
  • "Officer of the Year" was written by Vera Santamaria and directed by Stuart McDonald.
  • "Celebrate Me Scones" was written by Lennon Parham & Jessica St. Clair and directed by Stuart McDonald.
  • Maggie and Bruce sleep together again because of how well they worked together on the dance floor. And yet, both understand that it was just one moment of fun. It's not going to lead to anything else. They are happy with things the way that they are. Everything works. That shows such maturity for the two of them as a couple. They have come a long way since the beginning of the series.
  • It was a bit disappointing that Zach Woods was only in two episodes this season because Zach is always such an amusing character. His brief flirtation here with Pamela Adlon's Pam was hilarious. 
  • Zach's codename of choice is Bernadette Peters. That just makes perfect sense.
  • Dan: "I call her pony because she kicks in bed."
  • Maggie on Mark's outfit choice: "You are neither an Asian gentleman or Steven Seagal."
  • Emma: "I thought you were Bruce and I don't like him."
  • Emma: "So all the times I thought you weren't doing police work, you were?"
  • Maggie: "Bruce! It's our song!" The two of them really do complement each other well on the dance floor.
  • Zach: "How is she able to lift that?" Emma: "She's still breast feeding."
  • Zach on pitch: "Doorbells. None of them are right."
  • Maggie: "Why are you dressed like Shaft?" Mark: "Why am I dressed like Shaft? Are you hunting wabbits?"
  • As was the case last year, it's uncertain if USA will order any more episodes of Playing House. It's such a fun show that I desperately want to see more of. The ratings certainly are low. But the network also tried something different with how the episodes were released. I wonder how much that will factor into the renewal decision.