Preview: Playing House 1×1 (USA)

Stop giving these people TV shows

In the US: Tuesdays, 10/9c, USA. Starts April 29

Please! Won’t somebody stop them?

Who’s ‘they’, you might ask. Good question, because there’s a lot of theys who need stopping. The first they is the USA Network, which is busily trying to move from making character-based dramas – most of which are best described as dramedies – into making full-on comedies. It’s first effort, a remake of Channel 4’s Sirens, was pretty mediocre, and now we have the even more mediocre Playing House. USA certainly needs stopping.

Our next ‘they’ who need stopping are best friends who want to write and star in TV shows together as thinly veiled versions of themselves and their own friendship. While two friends starring together obviously can work – look at True Detective, for example – it’s when they get to write it as well and assume that their hilarious friendship will transfer well to the small screen that the issues arise. Look at Doll and Em and Best Friends Forever: very accurate portrayals of friendship that are not in the slightest bit funny to outside observers. These people need stopping.

That latter show, though, takes us to our last ‘they’ – Lennon Parham and Jessica St. Clair. For it was they who came up with that terrifyingly unfunny NBC ‘comedy’, which mostly involved them gurning at one another and not being especially plausible as human beings, so was rightly cancelled after about seven seconds. Yet somehow they’ve managed to garner themselves another show, this time on NBC’s sister network USA, where they do pretty much exactly the same thing.

Please. Won’t somebody stop them?

This time the plot is that Parham is married and about to have a baby, St. Clair is a high-flying exec. The two have been best friends since childhood and when Parham throws her baby shower, it accidentally comes out that her husband really enjoys webcamming with a German woman who likes putting biscuit tins and other things up her bottom. As does he. Naturally, the marriage breaks down and St Clair being the best friend she is drops everything, including her job, to move in with Parham to help her bring up the baby.

And as with Best Friends Forever, this feels like a show where the two real-life best friends are having an awful lot of fun together and really want us to know how crazy and wacky their friendship is, but ultimately it has zero in common with reality. Reality and this are not even ships passing in the night so much as a day-loving flying unicorn heading off to the planet Narg and a 43-year-old chartered quantity surveyor from a small village outside Surbiton who only does night shifts. 

For starters, as with BFF, well drawn as the female characters might be, the men appear to have been plotted from some imagined version of men gleaned by two teenage girls eavesdropping a table of psychologists at a “pathological neuroses” conference on their first trip out from the all girls catholic school since puberty struck. The male characters here may look like men, they’re even played by men, but that’s purely an optical illusion.

Then there’s the idea of what a ‘high flying exec’ might be. Apparently, if you’re a high flying exec, trusted by a company for 10 years to conduct million-dollar business deals in Mandarin, you have zero assertiveness, a total lack of self-confidence, are only allowed two days off per year at most, even at weekends, one night without sleep will incapacitate you and your company will fire you for a single bad business meeting. This is the high-flying exec imagined by comedy performers who have never had real jobs so have only watched really bad TV shows and read young-adult fiction as research.

Of course, lack of verisimilitude isn’t in and of itself a killer with a comedy, providing it’s funny, and if you like to watch a whole bunch of jokes you’ve seen before, just done sillier, with a little bit of added racism for luck, and by people who really want you to think they’re both lovable and funny, then maybe this is the show for you. But if you have standards, you’re going to be finding yourselves wanting Ming the Merciless to rain hot hail upon the Earth, purely in the hope that among the millions made homeless, some of the people involved in this will be collateral damage. It’ll be a price worth paying. And it should certainly stop ‘them’.

Here’s a trailer or two.


  • Rob Buckley

    I’m Rob Buckley, a journalist who writes for UK media magazines that most people have never heard of although you might have heard me on the podcast Lockdown Land or Radio 5 Live’s Saturday Edition or Afternoon Edition. I’ve edited Dreamwatch, Sprocket and Cambridge Film Festival Daily; been technical editor for TV producers magazine Televisual; reviewed films for the short-lived newspaper Cambridge Insider; written features for the even shorter-lived newspaper Soho Independent; and was regularly sarcastic about television on the blink-and-you-missed-it “web site for urban hedonists” The Tribe. Since going freelance, I've contributed to the likes of Broadcast, Total Content + Media, Action TV, Off The Telly, Action Network, TV Scoop and The Custard TV.

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