Emma and Maggie are lifelong best friends. They love each other unconditionally, as childhood friends can even when their lives have gone in very separate directions as they have on USA Network's "Playing House," premiering Tuesday, April 29.
The show stars Jessica St. Clair as Emma and Lennon Parham as Maggie. The two actresses are best friends, and they created the show together.
"Playing House"Premieres at 9 p.m. Tuesday, April 29, on USA
Parham recalls, "In the summer of 2012 -- and we do as we do when we get together to brainstorm an idea -- we were both probably eating grilled cheese and watching 'Oprah's Favorite Things,' so it will never end, and we both brought a few things to the table of what we wanted our next project to be. And Jessica said, 'What if we raised a baby together?'"
In the pilot, Emma is an executive in a business meeting in China, trying to extricate herself so she can get on a plane to Connecticut. There, she returns to Maggie's home just in time for the baby shower.
The women at the shower are watching a montage of baby photos on the flat-screen TV that is connected through the Wi-Fi in the house. Maggie's husband is in the basement, on his laptop, which winds up overriding what the women are watching. Let's just say that what some men do online, in their basements, is best left unknown. In this case, though, it is pretty funny. It also leads to Maggie throwing her husband out of the house.
Now Maggie needs Emma's help to raise the baby; Emma needs Maggie as well. She needs a life beyond boardrooms and a dictatorial boss. But Emma had fled small-town Connecticut for a reason.
"I grew up in this little town where people knew your business," St. Clair says of her character. "I left because I never felt like I totally fit into this town and felt I was destined for more international things. I lived this fab life in China. And it was kind of empty, but I am coming home."
The town she fled is based on Stonington, Conn., and Emma is not particularly keen to excavate her past. Of course she immediately runs into Mark (Keegan-Michael Key, "Key & Peele"), her high school boyfriend, who's now a cop married to a delicate creature, Tina (Lindsay Sloane).
In the second episode, Maggie and Emma visit Tina, who has an addiction to shopping on QVC, is manic about how she keeps her perfect home and, as she was in high school, is prone to injury. Even when Maggie and Emma revert to being the less-than-sensitive girls they were in high school, they still help Tina.
"Some of the episodes feel very 'Laverne & Shirley,'" St. Clair says. "When we get caught in her shower, the whole episode gets played in her house. One of my favorites is called '37 Weeks.' And it was right before Lennon gives birth, so we all have to come together and get the house painted, and all these secrets come together. There is almost a Woody Allen feeling to it."
Both of the best friends recently had babies, and Parham's pregnancy happened to coincide with the show, so that is not a fake belly she's wearing. Rather than trace their friendship to childhood, Parham and St. Clair met while they were studying improv in New York. They had an earlier NBC comedy called "Best Friends Forever," and the two are the sort of friends who finish each other's sentences.
St. Clair sees the new show as "a throwback" to shows like "Golden Girls," "Kate & Allie" and "I Love Lucy."
"At the end of the day," she said, "these people really care about each other. It makes us feel good to write it. You feel better after you watch this show. There is no snarkiness to it."