Lennon Parham, Jessica St. Clair
Jessica St. Clair and Lennon Parham are either very committed to their craft or they have impeccable timing.
In the summer of 2012, the duo started brainstorming ideas for a new TV show when St. Clair pitched a story about them raising a baby together. "She was like, 'This is insane, right?' And I was like, 'Actually, I kind of love it,'" Parham tells TVGuide.com. "That's definitely a dreamy idea that you'd get to raise a baby with your best friend."
Lo and behold, the two were shooting the pilot for Playing House eight months later and both pregnant with their first child. Parham was more than eight months along, while St. Clair was less than three. "I was throwing up in various lawns in Pasadena," St. Clair recalls, "but I couldn't tell anybody so I'd be like, 'Lennon, say that you need some water.'"
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Fast-forward a year, and the duo are now mothers, as well as the stars, creators, and executive producers of USA's new series Playing House. In the half-hour comedy, which premieres Tuesday at 10/9c, Parham plays a mom-to-be who leaves her cheating husband and calls upon her workaholic best friend (St. Clair) to move back to their childhood hometown to help her raise her baby. "It's like a romantic comedy but it stars two women and it's sort of their love story as a friendship," St. Clair says. "Basically, how if they hadn't come back together, they wouldn't go on this path where they're going to choose to live the life they were meant to lead."
That sense of destiny is one of the many things Parham and St. Clair have in common with their on-screen counterparts. After meeting more than a decade ago at the Upright Citizens Brigade Theater in New York City, the two became fast friends and writing partners. Influenced by classic TV shows centered on female friendship like The Golden Girls, Laverne and Shirley and Kate & Allie, they created the half-hour comedy Best Friends Forever, which premiered in April 2012 on NBC. The series got the axe a month later, but it gave St. Clair and Parham a small but fiercely loyal fan base and a valuable learning experience. "We put every piece of ourselves, like literally flesh, into the show," Parham says. Despite the show's cancellation, the two became even more determined to work on a show together. "We had the time of our lives on BFF and so that idea that we could have a job where we got to work together ... we were like, 'We have to do this again,'" St. Clair says. "It's now ruined us for everything."
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Although the two stars and most of the crew from BFF returned for Playing House, there was one change the two wanted to make. "We decided we really wanted to do something on cable because that would allow us to have lives, write fewer episodes, be able to write them and then go and shoot them," St. Clair says. Adds Parham: "And we thought maybe we'd have more control over the content and the voice of it." The two soon found a home at USA — which was looking to break into half-hour comedies. "It felt like USA, because they had only done dramas, was maybe the place that would be home to something that wasn't just total comedy," St. Clair says. "A lot of comedy on television has a reserve to it and it's a little too cool for school ... but what we really wanted to do was a show where you laugh and you also can cry."
Indeed, the show is a little less snarky and a lot more optimistic — much like St. Clair and Parham themselves. "The other thing that BFF taught me is that we need to enjoy it while it's happening because literally, the process of shooting it, if we are joyful in that moment, that will read and we are and we have been," Parham says.
It helps that many of the other actors who appear on Playing House are friends from St. Clair and Parham's UCB days. In addition to fellow cast members Key & Peele's Keegan Michael Key and The Office's Zach Woods, Malcolm in the Middle vet Jane Kaczmarek, SNL's Bobby Moynihan, The League's Jason Mantzoukas, Lindsay Sloane (Weeds), Eastbound & Down's Andy Daly, 30 Rock alum John Lutz and The Daily Show's Larry Wilmore will all guest-star as various residents of the show's fictional Connecticut town. "It's almost like Gilmore Girls, but with some of the weirdest weirdos you've ever seen in your life," St. Clair says. "We really wrote with people in mind. If you write for somebody that you know, then your job is so much easier."
Watch Best Friends Forever here
Making their jobs easier on Playing House was vital because of the ladies' new additions. While writing the episodes, Parham was a new mom and St. Clair was on the verge of her due date — "I'd be like, 'Stay in there, man. Mommy needs to make her scratch!'" — and both brought their babies to set regularly during filming. However, the ladies don't seem to mind the juggling act. "We had to let people do their own jobs because we literally, physically, could not do everything," Parham says. "We have some boundaries in place, and I feel like the show is better for it."
And although the two might be knee-deep in dirty diapers and spit-up these days, they're also now full of story ideas for Season 2. "Every morning in the trailer we're like, 'This could be a scene or this could be a scene,' when we're talking about pumping enough milk and all that stuff," Parham says. "Gross," St. Clair interjects with a laugh. "Don't tell America that the story lines are all going to be about pumping enough milk." Parham (jokingly) concedes: "No, that's not till Season 7."
Playing House premieres on Tuesday at 10/9c on USA.