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Image Credit: Evans Vestal Ward/USA Network

'Playing House' pilot recap: Friendship first

Season 1 | Episode 1 | “Pilot” | Aired Apr 29, 2014

First there was Lucy and Ethel, then Mary Tyler Moore and Rhoda. Now, almost 30 years after the latter’s final episode aired, there might finally be a successor to the televised female friendship throne: Maggie and Emma (Lennon Parham and Jessica St. Clair) of USA’s newest comedy, Playing House.

The show opens on a girl-power moment — Emma is leading an important business meeting in Beijing when her phone buzzes. It’s her pregnant best friend, Maggie, reminding her to wrap it up and get a move on before she misses her flight home and, more important, Maggie’s baby shower. The best part? It’s 3 a.m. in Maggie’s Connecticut hometown, and she’s busy putting together a baby crib, protective goggles and all.

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It’s obvious in the episode’s first two minutes that these ladies know how to get stuff done. Whether it’s in a high-powered executive position or the mundane world of domesticity, Emma and Maggie are capable, composed and confident. Well, sort of. It wouldn’t be a comedy if there weren’t at least a few embarrassing moments.

The story jumps to Emma and Maggie in a car, driving around their small Connecticut hometown, where Maggie, eight months pregnant, now lives with her husband. It’s here that we really get the first sense of how intimate their friendship is. There’s boob-grabbing, a spirited duet of Ken Loggins’ “Celebrate Me Home” (get it? Emma’s home!) and a super-awkward run-in with Emma’s high school boyfriend and local police officer, Mark (Keegan-Michel Key), during which Emma tips an imaginary cap to him and accidentally mocks his new wife, Tina, a.k.a Birdbones (“Oh, I broke my arm again ’cause I’ve got the bones of a bird! Snap!”)

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It’s a great opportunity for these Upright Citizens Brigade alums to flex their comedic muscles, and it’s also an important character development moment for Emma. Driving down the town’s Main Street just reminds her of all the reasons she wanted to leave home in the first place. Despite her loyalty to and love for Maggie, she doesn’t feel like she belongs there anymore.

Back at Maggie’s house we meet her husband, Bruce (Brad Morris), and her younger brother, Zach (Zach Woods), who has thoughtfully decorated her living room for the shower in a “woodland wonderland” theme, complete with hedgehog cupcakes and pinecones hanging from the ceiling. Bruce retreats to the basement and the guests arrive. The women (and Zach) celebrate and play crazy shower games; the party is a huge success — until Zach starts playing a slide show he and Emma prepared for Maggie. Somehow his computer feed gets crossed with Bruce’s (I guess that’s a thing that can happen with Apple TV?), revealing to the entire party exactly what it is that Bruce is doing down in the basement: video chatting with a German woman named MunichMuncher69 who “specializes in putting things up her butt.”

In a move that sort of defines the tone of the show, this bizarre moment turns out to inspire the episode’s big, emotional game-changer. Emma finds Maggie crying in a miniature red play house (metaphor alert!) in her backyard, where Maggie admits that her relationship has been on the decline for months; she was just embarrassed to tell that to her jet-setting best friend. Emma reveals her own insecurities, confessing, “I don’t even have a boyfriend. I don’t have any friends except my assistant, Riuchi, who only goes to karaoke with me because he has to … it’s depressing.” It’s a turning point for both of the friends, who are starting to realize that maybe they need to make a few changes in their lives.

After a long evening of recovering from the afternoon’s traumas, Emma completely forgets about a video conference she’s supposed to be on with her boss and an important client. When she signs on late and then falls asleep while the client is speaking, her boss gives her an ultimatum: Get on the next flight to Shanghai or lose her job.

Emma ultimately decides that even though she doesn’t quite feel at home in her hometown anymore, Maggie needs her more than she needs her job. And despite Maggie’s concern that Emma might be too flaky to trust as a partner in supporting and raising a child, in the heartfelt ending, they realize that their friendship is strong enough to get them through anything. It’s a neatly wrapped pilot plot that has the potential to produce all kinds of wacky adventures for these two pals in the coming season.

Maggie and Emma are candid, goofy, self-deprecating and hilarious. They’re adding a much-needed dimension to the comedy television lineup: a show centered around two female best friends who genuinely love each other. While their lives are far from perfect, they laugh at the imperfections, knowing that they will always have each other, and they are in this friendship for the long haul. Who wouldn’t want a girlfriend like that?

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Winning one-liners:

  • Maggie: I’m gonna hug you so hard it’s gonna hurt!
  • Emma: If you hadn’t sexually harassed me throughout high school, I would think you were a stone-cold gay man. Zach: I’m gonna take that as a compliment!
  • Mark: Emma? Mrs. Johansson from next door called and said there was a broad-shouldered, blazered man sitting on Maggie’s front porch.
  • Zach: You would think I’d have more cardiovascular strength after all the trumpet playing I’ve been doing!

What did you guys think? Did you love the pilot as much as I did? Or were you less of a fan? What were some of your favorite jokes from this episode? Let me know in the comments!

TV Families | EW.com
Mark Harris
February 23, 1990 AT 05:00 AM EST

The Bradys are back, with a passel of 90’s hassles. Do they represent the typical American Family? Did they ever? Who does? Stare and compare!

Kind Of Family
TheBradyBunch 1969-74: Blended
The Bradys 1990-: Enormous
Married…With Children 1987-: Postnuclear
Thirtysomething 1987-: Extended
The Flintstones 1960-66: Modern Stone Age

Family Pet
The Brady Bunch: Tiger
The Bradys: Alice
Married…With Children: Buck
Thirtysomething: Grendel
The Flintstones: Dino

Typical Guest Star
The Brady Bunch: Davey Jones
The Bradys: There’s no room
Married…With Children: Sam Kinison
Thirtysomething: Carly Simon
The Flintstones: Ann Margrock

Expression Of Joy
The Brady Bunch: Groovy!
The Bradys: Ritual hugging
Married…With Children: ”Oh, great.”
Thirtysomething: ”Of course I’m happy for you. Really. But what about me? Why does it always have to be about you?
The Flintstones: ”Yabba-dabba doo

Expression Of Rage

The Brady Bunch: ”Hmmm…”
The Bradys: ”If you back away from something you really want, then you’re a quitter!” (the angriest any Brady has ever been)
Married…With Children: ”Aaagh, God, take me from this miserable life!”
Thirtysomething: ”I’m not angry, OK?”
The Flintstones: ”Willllmaaaa!”

Typical Problem
The Brady Bunch: Marcia and her rival both want to be the prom queen.
The Bradys: Bobby gets paralyzed.
Married…With Children: Al doesn’t buy his family Christmas presents.
Thirtysomething: Nancy gets cancer.
The Flintstones: Fred and Barney are staying out too late.

Typical Solution
The Brady Bunch: The prom committee decides to have two queens.
The Bradys: Bobby gets married.
Married…With Children: They hate him.
Thirtysomething: If only we knew…
The Flintstones: Wilma and Betty decide to follow them.

House Style
The Brady Bunch: Conservative but mod, circa ’69
The Bradys: Conservative but mod, circa ’90
Married…With Children: Roach motel
Thirtysomething: Enviable
The Flintstones: Suburban cave

Clothing Style
The Brady Bunch: Early Osmonds
The Bradys: Made in the USA
Married…With Children: Flammable fabrics
Thirtysomething: Eclectic earth tones; nice ties
The Flintstones: One-piece

Most Annoying Character
The Brady Bunch: Alice’s cousin Emma, the substitute housekeeper (too strict)
The Bradys: Marcia’s husband, Wally (chronically unemployable)
Married…With Children: Steve (supercilious)
Thirtysomething: Ellyn (goes through Hope’s drawers, babbles, changes hairstyle every other week, generally mistreats her friends)
The Flintstones: Mr. Slate (bossy)

Attitude Toward Sex
The Brady Bunch: Never heard of it
The Bradys: Omigod — even Cindy does it!
Married…With Children: Peg: Yes. Al: No.
Thirtysomething: They didn’t get all those kids by accident.
The Flintstones: Prehistoric

How Spouses Fight
The Brady Bunch: They don’t.
The Bradys: Infrequently, but it happens
Married…With Children: Tooth and nail
Thirtysomething: They stop talking
The Flintstones: Fred and Barney go bowling while Wilma and Betty max out their charge cards.

How Kids Get Into Trouble
The Brady Bunch: Greg takes a puff of a cigarette.
The Bradys: Carol’s grandson steals her business cards and sticks them in the spokes of Bobby’s wheelchair.
Married…With Children: By committing felonies
Thirtysomething: Ethan plays with a forbidden toy rocket.
The Flintstones: They don’t.

How They’re Punished

The Brady Bunch: ”It’s not what you did, honey — it’s that you couldn’t come to us.”
The Bradys ”Next time, ask.”
Married…With Children: By the authorities
Thirtysomething: It blows up in his face.
The Flintstones: They’re not.

What Family Does For Fun
The Brady Bunch: Takes special three-part vacations to Hawaii and the Grand Canyon
The Bradys: Has flashbacks
Married…With Children: Exchanges insults
Thirtysomething: Talks
The Flintstones: Attends showings of The Monster at the Bedrock Drive-In

Unsolved Mysteries
The Brady Bunch: How exactly did Carol’s first husband and Mike’s first wife die?
The Bradys: What’s with Marcia’s new face and Bobby’s blonde hair
Married…With Children: What kind of hair spray does Peg use?
Thirtysomething: Why did Nancy take Elliot back? What do Gary and Susanna see in each other?
The Flintstones: How does Barney’s shirt stay on if he has no shoulders? Where do Fred and Wilma plug in their TV?

Worst Behavior
The Brady Bunch: The Brady children once made Alice feel under-appreciated.

The Bradys: Marcia’s son Mickey watches Bobby’s car-crash tape for fun.
Married…With Children: The Bundy’s kill their neighbor’s dog.
Thirtysomething: Elliot has an affair and talks about it.
The Flintstones: Characters don’t wear under-clothes.

Best Reason To Watch
The Brady Bunch: This is what life should be.
The Bradys: They’re all grown-ups now!
Married…With Children: Terry Rakolta hates it.
Thirtysomething (Tie) This is your life. This isn’t your life.
The Flintstones: This is what life might have been.

Best Reason Not To Watch
The Brady Bunch: Blurred vision from rerun overdoses.
The Bradys: You’re all grown-ups now.
Married…With Children: She has a point.
Thirtysomething: After a while, you think it’s real.
The Flintstones: The Simpsons

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