Playing House: TV review

Spoiling the charm of comic duo Lennon Parham and Jessica St. Clair, this 'House' could use a little rehab

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Photograph: Courtesy of USA Network

Lennon Parham as Maggie Caruso and Jessica St. Clair as Emma Crawford in Playing House

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Photograph: Courtesy of USA Network

Lennon Parham as Maggie Caruso and Jessica St. Clair as Emma Crawford in Playing House

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Photograph: Courtesy of USA Network

Jessica St. Clair as Emma Crawford in Playing House

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Photograph: Courtesy of USA Network

Lennon Parham as Maggie Caruso and Jessica St. Clair as Emma Crawford in Playing House

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Photograph: Courtesy of USA Network

Lindsay Sloane in Playing House

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Photograph: Courtesy of USA Network

Lennon Parham as Maggie Caruso and Jessica St. Clair as Emma Crawford in Playing House

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Photograph: Courtesy of USA Network

Keegan-Michael Key as Mark Rodriguez in Playing House

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Photograph: Courtesy of USA Network

Lennon Parham as Maggie Caruso and Jessica St. Clair as Emma Crawford and Lindsay Sloane in Playing House

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Photograph: Courtesy of USA Network

Lennon Parham as Maggie Caruso in Playing House

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Photograph: Courtesy of USA Network

Keegan-Michael Key as Mark Rodriguez in Playing House

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Photograph: Courtesy of USA Network

Jessica St. Clair as Emma Crawford and Lennon Parham as Maggie Caruso in Playing House

Premieres Tuesday, April 29 at 9pm on USA.

Two years ago, comic duo Lennon Parham and Jessica St. Clair premiered the winsome buddy sitcom Best Friends Forever on NBC, but a late premiere and poor ratings lead to the cancellation of the amiable series after only four episodes. Now the perky pair is back with another show about quirky soulmates that, sadly, doesn't match the charms of their previous outing.

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Maggie (Parham) and Emma (St. Clair) grew up together and have maintained their close ties, even though their lives have gone in separate directions. While Maggie is still living in their childhood hometown and only a few weeks away from giving birth to her first child with husband Bruce (Brad Morris), Emma has escaped to China, where she's conquered the business world. With Maggie about to pop, Emma is sucking it up and putting her busy work life on hold to go home and attend her bestie's baby shower. When a mid-shower technological snafu reveals a troubling secret about Bruce, Emma considers leaving her successful career behind to help Maggie down the rough road ahead.

Like Best Friends Forever, Playing House is at its best when it focuses on the close friendship between its very funny co-leads. It's when Maggie and Emma venture outside of their buddy bubble that the warm and fuzzy interplay turns barbed and even uncomfortably nasty. When Parham and St. Clair are performing a goofy car sing-along down Main Street, they're adorably magnetic, but when they're snarking about former high school classmates, they come off as a pair of high school mean girls still dwelling in the past.

This is a show that depends strongly on its leading ladies being likeable, and yet it spends almost the entirety of its second episode painting them as shallow and insensitive, completely undermining that goodwill built up in its first half-hour. Best Friends Forever grained traction when it allowed its characters to get a little bizarre. That type of energy is what much of Playing House is lacking.

With fellow funny folks like Keegan-Michael Key and Zach Woods bolstering Parham and St. Clair's wit, there's no reason that Playing House can't make some improvements. Right now it could use a little rehab.

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