The comedic chemistry of true BFFs: Best friends Jessica St. Clair and Lennon Parham star in USA’s “Playing House”

Tina and Amy are a great comedy team.

We’re all right to love watching Tina Fey and Amy Poehler onscreen together, either as themselves at an awards show or playing fictional characters making merry in sitcoms or movies. But they’re part of a long line of great female comedy duos throughout TV history — from Lucy and Ethel, to Laverne & Shirley to Kate & Allie. The lesson and potential legacy of Fey and Poehler, however, for both fans of comedy and for future comedians is to show the beauty and effectiveness of translating a real-life friendship and partnership into comedy gold.

Enter Jess & Len.

Jessica St. Clair and Lennon Parham star in Playing House, the USA sitcom that debuts tonight with two half-hour episodes (the pilot episode of Playing House is available already online) at 10 p.m. Eastern/Pacific.

St. Clair and Parham first met as performers on separate improv groups more than a decade ago at the Upright Citizens Brigade Theatre in New York City. They moved to Los Angeles to go Hollywood — among St. Clair’s roles, a small but memorable part as the bridal dress store clerk in Bridesmaids, and she’s currently on Comedy Central’s Review; Parham was a key supporting character in the 2009-2010 CBS sitcom Accidentally on Purpose. They finally combined forces in 2011-2012 to create the short-lived NBC sitcom, Best Friends Forever. In BFF, their loyal lifelong friendship found one of them turning the other’s couple into three’s company. For Playing House, again, they start with a typical married couple — wife pregnant and expecting, swap out the wayward husband for the loyal lifelong friend, and now baby makes three.

In real life, both Parham and St. Clair are new mothers.

“When you authentically tell your own stories or you are authentically yourselves, that’s extremely compelling,” Parham said.

They both describe the other best friend as loyal to the core.

“I drive her crazy, but she’s stuck with me for the rest of her life, so, too bad,” St. Clair said.

Here’s a clip to introduce you to them and their series.

St. Clair and Parham have a chemistry so genuine, so natural that they eschew a traditional TV writing process. Instead, the duo takes a plot premise — often inspired by their own new experiences in motherhood — and then improvises dialogue not only for themselves but also all of the other characters. They transcribe that and hand it over to their writing staff to rework it into a final script.

Their writing staff, and their co-stars, come from their comedy community — many tracing roots back with the leads to improv groups at the UCB.

Keegan-Michael Key plays Mark, the town’s main police officer and first love for Emma (St. Clair), who returns home to fictional Pinebrook, Conn., from Shanghai — where she was an overworked executive — for Maggie’s (Parham) baby shower. Zach Woods plays a friend of both from way back. Ian Roberts, Neil Casey, Jason Mantzoukas, Bobby Moynihan and Andy Daly are among the town’s colorful residents. Jane Kaczmarek plays Emma’s mother. And Brad Morris plays Maggie’s wayward husband.

So it’s a small-town feel on the show, where everyone knows everyone, and also an intimate comedy family working together as cast and crew.

Do they still say “Characters Welcome” on USA?

Regardless, you’ll be welcoming these characters into your home. They’re just too charming not to invite them in to play.

Playing House, starring Jessica St. Clair and Lennon Parham, debuts tonight on USA.

Sean L. McCarthy

Editor and publisher since 2007, when he was named New York's Funniest Reporter. Former newspaper reporter at the New York Daily News, Boston Herald and smaller dailies and community papers across America. Loves comedy so much he founded this site.

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