Features

What Friends Are For

Jessica St. Clair and Lennon Parham of USA comedy Playing House find the funny in being long-term buddies.

Tatiana Siegel

Who needs an epidural?

When Jessica St. Clair and Lennon Parham were writing the birthing episode of their new USA comedy series Playing House, the pair devised a scene that called for an accidental natural delivery.

Parham plays Maggie, the mom-to-be who ditches her cheating husband at the 11th hour and teams up with her lifelong friend, Emma (St. Clair) — a career woman with no child-rearing skills — to raise the offspring.

But in real life, it was St. Clair who gave birth to a 10-pound girl — her first child — the day after the pair penned the episode.

“I tried to get as many drugs as were legal in the state of California,” she recalls. “In our episode, Maggie can’t get an epidural. And then the almost identical thing started to happen to me. I thought what we were writing couldn’t ever happen. But it does.”

Life imitated art for Parham as well. The actress became pregnant not long after she and St. Clair wrote the pilot.

By the time the real-life best friends shot the episode, Parham was 8-and-a-half months along, just like her character.

The half-hour comedy, from Universal Cable Productions, boasts more than its sleep-deprived executive producer–stars, best known for their short-lived NBC comedy series Best Friends Forever.

An impressive roster of comedy veterans including Jane Kaczmarek (Malcolm in the Middle), Keegan-Michael Key (Key and Peele) and Zach Woods (The Office) join the cast of Playing House, which premiered in April.

Emmy’s Tatiana Siegel caught up with the Upright Citizens Brigade alums during a break on the day they shot the first-season finale. The stars dished about everything from poopy diapers to shattering female archetypes in primetime.
 
How difficult was it to bring this series to fruition?

Parham: It really wasn’t hard at all. Universal wanted to do something with us.

At first, they wanted to revive Best Friends Forever. But when it became clear that it wasn’t something we wanted to do, they were like, “What else have you got?”
 
Playing House offers a new spin on the buddy comedy. What are some of your favorite buddy comedies from the past?

St. Clair: We love Laverne & Shirley. Those old episodes totally hold up. We love Kate & Allie. That was something that inspired us — the idea of two women raising their children together. And we love Gilmore Girls.

Parham: I Love Lucy, The Golden Girls… anything that celebrates female friendship.
 
Do you think female friendship is accurately depicted on TV?

St. Clair: A lot of times you see the archetypal friendships of the bitch, the slut and the nerd. And I’m like, “Nope.” First of all, no woman is [that one-dimensional]. And these women would never be friends.

We wanted to do a show where we explored best friendship that begins in childhood, with the kind of person who has your back for your whole life, who can call you on your s@%t...

Get the full story in the May 2014 issue of Emmy magazine here.