Playing House: Season 1
Universal // Unrated // $44.98 // July 7, 2015
Review by Francis Rizzo III | posted July 7, 2015
M O V I E
V I D E O
A U D I O
E X T R A S
R E P L A Y
A D V I C E
Recommended
E - M A I L
this review to a friend
R E V I E W S
Graphical Version
In 10 Words or Less
Parham and St. Clair make friendship funny

Reviewer's Bias*
Loves: Sitcoms, Womp It Up, Jessica St. Clair
Likes: Lennon Parham, UCB, Comedy Bang! Bang!
Dislikes: Not getting extras, most USA shows
Hates: DiGiornos with cream cheese

The Show
There's a ton of fantastic characters on Comedy Bang! Bang!, both the podcast and TV show, but few have been as odd, memorable and enjoyable as high-school intern Marissa Wompler and her intense mentor Charlotte Listler, who are voiced by the fantastic comedy team of Jessica St. Clair and Lennon Parham, best known to mainstream audiences for their short-lived NBC series Best Friend Forever. But considering Marissa's unique physical attributes, she's not making an appearance on TV any time soon, so the best we can get are their stand-ins, Emma and Maggie, on the USA sitcom Playing House.

Emma (St. Clair) is back in town from her job in China in order to attend the baby shower of her best friend Maggie (Parham.) It goes haywire though, and Maggie ends up separated from her husband, while Emma gives up her job to help get her through her pregnancy. The first season follows their misadventures in preparing for the new arrival, while establishing the people in their Connecticut corner of the world, which include Emma's ex Mark (Keegan Michael Key), Maggie's quirky brother Zach (Zach Woods) and Bruce, the father of the baby (Brad Morris). The feel is not unlike most mainstream sitcoms, with the focus falling mainly on the friendship between Emma and Maggie, drawing both laughs and occasional pathos from them, particularly toward the end of the season.

Though Key, playing a cop who would be right at home as one of his sketch characters, and Woods, playing another variation on his stock oddness, are both highly enjoyable (Morris doesn't get a lot to do, thanks to a somewhat slim character), the show obviously rides on co-creators and writers St. Clair and Parham, who have a ridiculous level of chemistry, which makes their on-screen friendship feel completely real and allows them to sell the weirder things they (and any good oddballs) do. Their sense of humor certainly leans toward the unusual, which comes out in their hysterical conversations and interactions, but it finds laughs in traditional areas, with classic misunderstandings and scheming worthy of Ethel and Lucy. Plus, as a little bonus for fans of "womping it up," there are tons of little references to Marissa and Listler throughout the show.

The regular supporting cast is top-notch, including Jane Kaczmarek as Emma's mom, but the guest cast, which draws heavily from the world of UCB, is simply amazing. In any given episode you'll find Jason Mantzoukas, Bobby Moynihan, Andy Daly, Ian Roberts or Eugene Cordero (as well as an appearance by Larry Wilmore), and they are far from stunt-cast, integrating with St. Clair and Parham perfectly. As a result, the world-building that goes on helps the season-long storyline play out smoothly, moving at a good pace. The only hiccup, if there is one, is the final episode, which surprisingly doesn't feature the awaited birth. It feels like much of what was accomplished here could have been handled in the previous episode, but here it does get a bit of room to breathe, as well as the opportunity to explore more emotion, since we get to see the laughs play second fiddle (a bit) to the character's lives. Of course, if the complaint here is there's too much St. Clair and Parham, the show is doing fine.

The Disc
The first season of Playing House arrives on one DVD, packed in a clear, standard-width keepcase with a two-sided cover. The case comes in a slipcover that repeats the cover art. A static menu offers a choice to play all, select shows, adjust the set-up and check out the special features. There are no audio options, but subtitles are available in English SDH.

The Quality
With 10 episodes (about 220 minutes of TV) on one disc, the odds were against this disc from the start. The anamorphic widescreen transfers are actually not bad, though they are certainly a touch soft and light on fine detail, but the color is rather solid, as are the black levels. Some slight artifacting is noticeable in the more active moments, but they are not frequent.

The 5.1 Dolby Digital audio is clean, but the show doesn't offer the most challenging mix, as the comedy focuses mainly on dialogue, all of which is easily intelligible. The surrounds give a boost when music is in the scene and handle some atmospheric effects when the scene requires it, but there's no notable positioning or movement in the soundfield, nor is the low-end particularly active (the drum scene in the fifth episode felt hollow because of it.)

The Extras
Sadly, aside from some trailers, there's not an extra to be had. Boy would a commentary by Parham and St. Clair have been nice.

The Bottom Line
If you like St. Clair and Parham (and why wouldn't you, you monster?) then this is a must-see series, a positive, oft-silly show starring a pair of very funny actors who deliver one of the best portrayals of friendship on TV. There's enough traditional comedy to satisfy those scared of shows like Community, but enough of an odd energy to appeal to those who enjoy shows like Community. Though the audio and video are good, the lack of extras is a bummer. The show itself deserves a high recommendation, but the presentation and (no) extras drag it down a bit.



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