'Playing House' Stars on Their Season 2 Dream Board and How a Baby "Raises the Stakes"

"We hadn't let go. Everything that we were pitching had all of our same characters in it," Lennon Parham tells THR of trying to come to terms with the show's near demise.
Robyn Von Swank/USA Network

Most TV shows are lucky to produce a memorable catchphrase or two. But USA's Playing House boasts nearly an entire language (see: 'jammers,' 'totes kewl,' 'bird bones' and – everyone's favorite – 'body be bangin' '). It's the same fans that turned these pieces of dialogue into must-known vernacular who playing an instrumental role in bringing the beloved but low-rated comedy back for a second season, which premieres Tuesday after nearly 14 months off the air. Series creators, executive producers and stars Jessica St. Clair and Lennon Parham spoke with The Hollywood Reporter about the show's long road to renewal, their season two dream board and how a baby "raises the stakes."

Was there a point where you really didn't think the show was coming back? What was that like to be in limbo for so long?

Jessica St. Clair: In this business, you never really expect a second season of something. But for some reason with this, I really felt like we had so much more to tell. I was like, "This has to come back, right?!" But then as the months went on, we officially mourned and moved on…

Lennon Parham: And we were about to start on our other projects when we got the call. It was so shocking, we literally screamed, "What the f— are you talking about? Is this a prank show?" No joke. We tried to start writing something else, but we just didn't feel ready and it was really hard because we were still hanging on. We hadn't let go. Everything that we were pitching had all of our same characters in it (Laughs). … But fans and press, every single weekend we would see a new article or a new blog post or a new tweet that came out that said, "USA, wake up! Renew the show. What are you doing? This show is so underrated. We need more of it."

St. Clair: We always thought that doesn't ever really happen. People say, "Oh, a show is brought back because of the fans," but that's not really true. But in this case, it really was true. It almost became embarrassing.

When we got into the writers room for the second season, because we thought we were dead for so long, there was [that feeling], "Let's make this season the most fun we could ever have." We had this board where we told everybody to put up their up dream. If they have a dream of meeting somebody, of writing a certain scene, whatever it is, we're going to try to make all those dreams come true. It was so fun. Sometimes the writing process can be really grueling but this time, there was a real spring break feeling to it. So in this season, we end up singing with Kenny Loggins. That's one of Lennon's literal dreams since she was eight years old.

Parham: Before we got too far into the story, we reached out to his people. We wrote a letter, we sent a video of me and my friend Lesley at his concert, we sent this clip from the first season of us singing "Celebrate Me Home" in the car. We got word that he was in, and I screamed so much that the casting agency down the hall from us thought we were losing our minds.

St. Clair: I was like, "You know what I want to see? A dream fantasy sequence where Maggie has sex with the Property Brothers."

Logistically, did you already have some ideas of where you wanted the new season to go or were your really starting from scratch?

Parham: To be honest, we were starting from scratch because we had not let ourselves dream about season two and we were resigned to move on.

St. Clair: Season one had a built-in arc because the baby was coming and so this one was a little more like, "Hmm, what do we want to tell?" What was interesting was Lennon and I were pregnant while writing season one … By the time we got into the writer's room for season two, we were literally writing about our last year that had just happened like what's it like to come out of the claws of motherhood and how having a baby raises the stakes for everything like who you spend your time with, what you want to do for the rest of your life. The cool thing about it is writing the fantasy of what it's like to raise a baby with your best friend. We know what it's like to raise it with our husbands but there's this cool other element of what would it be like to play house with your best friend.

Parham: The baby is there for heightening stakes, but she's just kind of along for the ride. There are not a lot of baby-driven stories…

St. Clair: Because that wasn't our life. We didn’t have a whole day devoted to going to Mommy and Me.

What arcs will we see this season?

St. Clair: The premise of the show is the same as season one, which is these girls coming back together are able to live a better life and be better people then I they had remained apart. So I feel like for Maggie, when she was married to Bruce, she never really dreamed of what she wanted to be when she grew up.

Parham: She was on a path for one thing. And then when her parents passed away, it kind of derailed her and she ended up taking care of everyone else in her life… which is a trap that she could fall into, to just to take care of the baby and not take care of herself, but because Emma is there, she always forces Maggie to put herself first.

St. Clair: The second episode, we put Maggie on Tinder. She has a dream about having sex with the Property Brothers. I take that as a cue that she needs to get back to dating and I put her on Tinder and she has a night of Tinder dates which of course go horribly wrong, but there's something great in the fact that your best friend can constantly put you out of your comfort zone. Maggie ultimately realizes she's not ready for all of that but it was great to get her feet wet again.

For Emma, it's a very romantic season. She's trying to figure out who she wants to be with and what that means. … Because baby Charlotte's there, I think she wants to be a good person, so maybe for the first time, you see her choose to be really honest even if it means giving up something great or someone great.

You had all these great catchphrases and inside jokes that the show's loyal fan base picked up on. When you were going into season two, were there certain things you felt you needed to revisit?

Parham: Definitely. You will see Bosephus again. He will rise again.

St. Clair: The truth is that when Lennon is Bosephus, she is so mean to me. She can't smile because the mustache will come off. So in between takes, it's just scowling. And then when we are on camera, Bosephus treats me like a piece of meat. I'm repulsed and also attracted to it.

Parham: Everyone is really attracted to him (Laughs). … But to be honest, at the Upright Citizens Brigade, we were really raised in comedy to believe that you just have to do what you think is the funniest thing and people will come it. That's kind of how we write. We're not looking to necessarily repeat anything. We're just continuing to tell stories that we think are heartfelt and funny, and hopefully other people will find it funny.

St. Clair: I was also surprised that there were catchphrases because, I think, when you're actual real-life best friends like Lennon and I, we have this language…

Parham: It's like a short hand.

St. Clair: Things like "body be bangin' ", we've both been saying it forever and we just say it when we improvise and then it makes it's way into the scripts and I think people maybe responded to the fact that them and their best friend have that weird language.

Do you remember the first time people started quoting that to you or tweeting that to you?

Parham: The first one was the "Bird Bones" episode and people started using "body be bangin' " all over the place.

St. Clair: It showed us that people were having fun and connecting with the show and that's all we ever wanted to do. It would be nice if we were the show that everyone watches. But for us, if people relate to it like, "Oh my God, this is just like me and my best friend," or they think of us as a show that they put on because it's hilarious but also really comforting… that’s what we always wanted.

Parham: I know that the whole point of it is that it airs and people experience it, but because we did live theater for so long, the actual release of the project is like icing on the cake. For us, it's a lot about the process of writing it, and doing it, and editing it.

When you first premiered, USA was doing a big push for scripted half-hour comedies and now you're the only one on the network. How much does that concern you about the show's future?

St. Clair: We're in this really different world of television where everybody is binge-watching and it almost doesn’t matter where you're airing. So the cool thing about this season is that we just really focusing a lot on social media and trying to get people to share with their friends. … They don't care as much about the overnight ratings as much as they want to see that people are binge-watching it because that means to them that there's content people will come for.

Parham: It's available on demand for people right now and we're seeing a real uptick online…. Our show does really well on word of mouth. It did crazy numbers on demand without any promotion so we're hoping that the tipping point is about to happen just so we can do another season.

So you're going guns blazing for season three then.

St. Clair: We have about 20 episodes now so if they don’t give us a season three we might go insane.

Playing House's new season premieres Tuesday at 10 p.m. on USA.

comments powered by Disqus