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After a nearly two-year break between seasons of Playing House, USA Network made sure it was worth the wait for longtime fans of the half-hour. After premiering the first two episodes of season three back-to-back on Friday night, the cabler took a page from Netflix’s playbook and released all eight installments on VOD and Amazon Prime on Saturday, allowing viewers to binge-watch the entire season in a matter of hours.
Many eyes were also on the new season because of the personal storylines introduced. In May, co-creator and star Jessica St. Clair revealed in a heartfelt essay that she had battled breast cancer and undergone a masectomy between seasons two and three. Even further, she revealed that she and co-creator and star Lennon Parham planned to write her real-life heath battle into the series. Just like St. Clair, Emma ultimately beat breast cancer thanks to the help of her BFF Maggie (Parham) and two rock-star surgeons brought to life by Emmy winner Laurie Metcalf and Michaela Watkins.
“When we sent the treatment,” Parham recalls, “we got a phone call from [svp current scripted programming] Michael Sluchan, who said, ‘We just want to thank you for the privilege of getting to share your story on our network, because this is going to save people’s lives.'”
But for all the tougher moments season three had in store, there were lighter moments as well, such as the two ladies’ must-see finale musical moment. This season also saw both of the women settle down, Emma with Mark (Keegan-Michael Key) and Maggie with Dr. Ericson (Ben Willbond).
The season ended with the two women emerging from Emma’s cancer battle stronger and closer than ever.
With season three officially out, THR jumped on the phone to discuss casting Metcalf and Watkins, season four plans and what the future holds for Pinebook’s two most beloved residents.
Given everything that the two of you have gone through, how does it feel to finally have the new episodes out?
Lennon Parham: I thought I would feel nervous. Oftentimes right before our product is released, there’s sort of a nervous expectation that I hope they like it, but the response from our fans about seasons one and two -– we just got back from the ATX Television and the Vulture Festival, and to be able to interface with them and see what season one and season two have meant to them, it really allayed my fears about season three. This season is the most personal and the most grounded and authentic, and I think for that reason, everyone’s going to really connect with it.
Jessica St. Clair: This sounds crazy, but going through what we went through the last year, with me getting cancer and having to sort of face some serious truths about life, the motto for our lives has become “F–– yes, life,” which basically kind of means we don’t give a f–– anymore about what anybody thinks except for us and our loved ones, so it’s been really freeing as a writer.
Parham: We wrote it into the show as “Hell yes, life.”
St. Clair: Because it’s on USA. (Laughs) It’s not that we don’t care, because we actually care really deeply, but it’s like we kind of shed this insecurity about giving people what they want, quote unquote, which we could never figure out anyway. We just decided there is no other mode for us than being authentic to what we find funny or what actually happened to us. So, in a way, it feels really exciting, because it’s like…I took all of my hair pieces out for the final episodes where I showed what chemo has kind of done to my hair, and I would have never done that before. But we’ve already spent the entire season being so vulnerable that it was — it feels like people are going to accept us for who we really are, which is a really cool experience to have on a larger scale.
Parham: That’s the big, huge lesson we went through, for sure. Being diagnosed, it’s like you have to let people in and see you at your most vulnerable, and when you do that, and when you share that piece of yourself…
St. Clair: …you find out how much people really love you…
Parham: …and only goodness can come from that.
Two of the biggest guest stars this season were Laurie Metcalf and Michaela Watkins, who played Emma’s doctors. How did their appearances come about?
St. Clair: It’s funny, because as I said in the Hollywood Reporter column, Lennon is just an amazing mimic, and also she has a photographic memory. I don’t remember anything, like I’ll have no memory of this phone call after we get off the phone. (Laughs) She was able to recreate word for word things that happened in these real-life scenes that we had with these doctors. So we had these words and then we were like, “OK, now we have to find actors we know to play these real people.” And these real people, my surgeons, were such badasses, so we knew they had to be powerhouses.
The good news is that there’s no shortage of female powerhouse comedians/dramatic actors out there. Laurie Metcalf immediately came to mind. She played my mother-in-law in this multi-camera sitcom we did called The McCarthys, and we had had a real connection. So we emailed her. We thought, “Oh, Laurie, she won’t be available.”
Parham: She’s going to New York to do this Tony-winning role…
St. Clair: …she immediately emailed us back, literally within the hour, and was like, “What do you need?” And same thing with Michaela, who I had done Jill Soloway’s first movie, Afternoon Delight, with and had fallen madly in love with.
Parham: I just had been in The House with her and we had many conversations because she knew about Jess, and not everybody knew about it, so I could talk to her about it. It was connected to her life in a really personal way as well, so it was almost like an opportunity for her to give back by doing this role.
St. Clair: A lot of times with our production, things are hard. Scheduling is always tough –- we’re the only show on television where nobody but us is under contract -– so we knew that Keegan is going need to do The Predator so we’re going to need to shoot all his stuff in like two days — but this season, we sort of gave in to the idea that whatever was going to be right was gonna just work out, and then it did.
Looking ahead, what conversations have you had with the network and the studio about a potential fourth season? How confident are you feeling about that?
St. Clair: It’s so weird too because usually we would be obsessing about that, and the ratings, but I don’t think we’re even thinking [about it]. We have a couple episodes we’d like to shoot in London, but I don’t know. If it’s meant to be then it will, and I say that now, and of course if it didn’t work, we would be devastated.
Parham: We would love to do the show for the rest of our lives, till the end of time, basically. Hopefully that will happen and hopefully we won’t have to wait very long to find out.… Eighteen episodes already exist, and now we’re bumping it up to 26, so that’s like a real full season. People can feel satisfied watching and new people are hopefully coming to it. Somebody just tweeted to me today, “Why did it take me so long to find this show? I can’t wait to watch more.”
St. Clair: It has to hit a sticking point.… We hope it has.
Going into season four, what are you eager to discuss and cover on the show?
Parham: I don’t know if we know arc-wise. Maybe we have to live another year of our lives to find out. But Jess and I are the closest we’ve ever been, so it’s sort of like, what does this next chapter of our lives look like? Every new year, we’re writing a new person in; this season we’re obsessed with Lauren Weedman. I think we have an idea of potentially her [Cookie] getting married to Bruce and taking us on one hell of a bachelorette weekend with all of her intimidating fighter friends.
St. Clair: What Lennon and I are up to is like pure joy. We just sort of pursue whatever makes us happy. So what I would love to see season four be is just a straight-up joy fest where [Maggie] gets engaged to the salt and pepper situation that is Mr. Darcy, British heartthrob [Dr. Ericson]…
Parham: …Ben Willbond.
St. Clair: …and just have a good f––ing time. That’s what I’d like to see us do in season four, living our best lives. (Laughs)
Speaking of these new love interests, a big premise of the show is these two women living together and raising Charlotte together, so do you ever see the show moving beyond that, where they no longer live together but are still in each other’s lives?
St. Clair: I think it’s gonna be a while before anything like that happens.
Parham: Again, this season happens six weeks after last season, so next season might happen over the period of three days. We don’t know. It’s like a 24 situation. (Laughs) I don’t think that any relationship will become more important than these two women to each other, if that makes sense. The show will always be about the two of them, and how they make each other better. It’s not a placeholder for one of them finding love.
St. Clair: I’ll probably move next door if I have to move anywhere, and then there will be a tunnel that connects our two houses. (Laughs)
Playing House’s entire third season is available on VOD and Amazon Prime now. New episodes will also air every Friday at 11 p.m. and 11:30 p.m. on USA.
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