Jessica St. Claire, Lennon Parham
If at first you don't succeed, try cable. Which helps explain the déjà vu feeling that accompanies USA Network's new-but-kinda-familiar Playing House (Tuesday, 10/9c), starring and executive produced by real-life BFFs and partners-in-comedy Lennon Parham and Jessica St. Clair, who performed similar duties for the blink-and-you-missed-it NBC sitcom dud Best Friends Forever, which aired for several weeks two midseasons ago.
Expectations couldn't be lower for this unrequested reunion, which is why it comes as such a nice surprise that Playing House, while hardly anything new, provides a much happier showcase for these gals' effortlessly snarky chemistry. For one thing, they appear to be playing actual characters this time, not using their own first names as they did in BFF. And the self-absorption is a little less extreme as they're forced to interact with other (and wackier) characters in the quaintly quirky berg of Pinebrook, Connecticut. But first we must endure the strained set-up of the pilot, in which sophisticated global businesswoman Emma (St. Clair) jets home from Shanghai to Pinebrook, a hometown she despises, to be there for her very pregnant BFF Maggie (Parham), whose marriage conveniently collapses. Will Emma give up the glamorous fast lane to settle down and play house with her best bud until and after the baby comes? What do you think?
The best part of Playing House in the back-to-back premiere episodes is watching Emma cringingly readjust to her provincial roots, which includes an ex-boyfriend, local cop Mark (Keegan-Michael Key of Key & Peele), who's now immune to her mean-girl charms. Mark's panic is hilarious in the second episode when he realizes Emma and Maggie are intent on invading his spotless home to have brunch with his fragile oddball wife (the priceless Lindsay Sloane), who Emma nicknamed "Birdbones" back in high school — which still applies to this easily wounded, pathetically lonely control freak. The recurring cast also includes Malcolm in the Middle's Jane Kaczmarek as Emma's mother, who doesn't even appear in the first episodes — that's how distant Emma has become from her past — and The Office's gawky Zach Woods (also terrific on HBO's Silicon Valley) as a platonic third wheel to the Emma-and-Maggie Show, which I'm thinking will keep improving the more they stop "playing house" and keep colliding with the offbeat community at large.
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A GREAT PLACE TO REVISIT: That would be FX's Fargo (10/9c), the highlight of the spring TV season. Here's a T-shirt waiting to happen: "Me? I'm the consequence," which is how Lorne Malvo (the amazing Billy Bob Thornton) presents himself to hapless blackmailer Don Chumph (Glenn Howerton) as the darkly funny menace takes over the operation, much to the peril of Supermarket King Stavros (Oliver Platt). Seeking a metaphor for Lester's (Martin Freeman) escalating predicament back in Bemidji? Look no further than his festering hand wound. And on the good-cop front, Gus from Duluth (Colin Hanks) meets the wonderful Molly (Allison Tolman) as he comes to terms with his shameful secret. You don't want to miss it.
THE TUESDAY GUIDE: Look who's back on ABC's Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. (8/7c): Agent Maria Hill (Cobie Smulders) from the Marvel movies, and just in time, all things considered. ... Emmy winner Tony Hale (Veep, Arrested Development) guests on NBC's About a Boy (9:01/8:01c) as little Marcus's scientist dad, who's taking a break from his Antarctic penguin research, though it's left to neighbor Will to prompt some father-son togetherness. ... Now that Syfy's Face Off has wrapped for the season, Jim Henson's Creature Shop Challenge moves up an hour to 9/8c, with the remaining contestants tasked to create a camouflaged creature that can hide in plain sight — in a swamp. ... Carrie Preston returns to CBS's Person of Interest (10:01/9:01c) as Finch's lost love Grace — the chemistry is real; Preston and Michael Emerson (Finch) are married — as those Decima baddies target Grace to get Finch to come out of hiding.
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