Pilot season this fall has been dominated by marriage, and explorations of committed, boy-on-girl relationships. I literally cannot be argued with–just look at the series titles: Married on FX. Marry Me on NBC. The Affair on Showtime. Seriously, it’s right there.
Thing is (and I’m definitely not the first person to say this, nor the last): What I’ve seen of this new crop of shows isn’t…good. I’m already missing some of the fresh, hilarious gems that brightened my summer–when, in a surprising and delightful turn of events, lady comedians and female friendship dominated the airwaves. Here, a tribute to one of my very favorite new shows, and a personal plea to USA TV execs for renewal:
The premise of USA’s Playing House: Emma and Maggie have been best friends forever. Emma returns to her small-town home for Maggie’s baby shower. Maggie promptly discovers that her husband is a cheating Internet weirdo, and Emma drops everything to move in with Maggie, and to help with the newborn. Co-creators and co-stars Jessica St. Clair and Lennon Parham are real-life best buddies and collaborators, and it shows. The show glows with warmth generated by their love and their crazy. Awkward plot moments and the super-thin secondary characters (thus far, but improving) move to the background when Emma (St. Clair) and Maggie (Parham) come together onscreen. This thing is begging for renewal.
I don’t love it when girls touch me. I’ve never quite understood the GIRLS-style female friendship that requires joint nudity, or doing that horrible arm-in-arm walking thing. It is the least effective, least comfortable way to walk.
But ladylove, Emma and Maggie-style? I have that. Let me tell you, that kind of friendship is pretty singular, and I am not sure a girl should be allowed more than one. One at a time, at least–maybe one in a lifetime. There is a ridiculous abundance of brilliant, hilarious and wonderful women in my life. But this one, with my co-blogger, and the one I see when I watch Playing House, examines something uniquely female and totally underrepresented on the small screen ’till now. One where the emotional stakes don’t necessarily manifest physically–with touching, hugging, curling up together in bed or snotting in a bathtub. You just–feel them.
Since I moved to San Francisco, Alison and I have stayed in shockingly close touch. I’m actually pretty good at keeping up with people, in general (I lied in our first post). But there are only so many bi-monthly hour-long phone-call-type relationships one can sustain. It’s exhausting. But then texting happened! It’s so great! And, if you’re Alison and I, it’s also the perfect tool to hone our writing-based, cynicism-powered observational one-liner skills.
In the way that so many ladies decide they’re “a Miranda” or “a Carrie” in their friendships, Alison and I both agree that if Playing House were a thing that happened to us, we’d both be Emmas. But the dynamic is us–two smart, stubborn and fiercely independent women who also, somehow, need each other. But NEVER talk about it. Because that’s sort of gross and also because–who cares? We don’t need to say it out loud. It’s there.
That kind of easy female comfort, coinciding with a deep mutual respect and awareness of boundaries/wants/desires is incredibly rare. And unbelievably hard to write. That’s probably why we haven’t seen it on TV until two BFFs decided to make it together.
Emma can go take a nap when she’s tired of hanging out. Maggie won’t get pissed–she’ll probably be glad for a moment to herself. Maggie can bust out Bosephus, and Emma can reminisce briefly about dry-humping some guy they both knew under the bleachers in high school. Most especially for girls, shared memories lay the foundations for the kind of wrought-iron friendship these ladies have. But memories are not the sum of that friendship–Emma and Maggie are invested in the present tense. In creating that present tense together, and also by supporting and celebrating their independent experiences.
This, I think, separates it from a show like Sex and the City. The show is a classic portrait of feminine friendship, yes–but you can’t divorce that friendship from men. Male relationships and sex are the foreground for each character’s story–again, it’s baked right into the title.
So, I’m excited about Playing House–for all the reasons that any person should love good art. They see themselves in it. I see Alison and I, albeit quietly, in Emma and Maggie. And it makes me hope–nay, believe–that were I pregnant and divorcing my cheating ex-husband, I’d have someone to call. Or that if Alison found herself in that hysterically funny situation, vice versa.
To Alison, and all the Jessica St. Clair and Lennon Parhams out there, let me illustrate what I mean with one final example, drawn from another Very Important Female Friendship Moment on TV: if you were Carrie, your diaphragm were stuck, and you genuinely, seriously needed a Samantha-style “helping hand” (terrible), I would be that hand. Without question. But I will not hold your hand for no reason. That’s weird.