Spoilers for seasons one and two. But seriously, you should be caught up by now. It’s been two years.
When future generations of TV viewers look back at our time, there’s a very good chance that they’ll think of Playing House the way we think of Leave It To Beaver. And that’s a very good thing. But that’s all a lot to unpack. Let’s start small.
Playing House is the most functional show on TV (nice, Em. Way to start small). By “functional” I specifically mean Emma and Maggie have an exemplary relationship built on honest and open communication, and a willingness to let the other see them at their most vulnerable. Basically #squadgoals. They are the best. After I plowed through the entire third season this weekend (all of season three is available OnDemand or through USA’s website. Get on it), I started a rewatch of seasons one and two. Everything I remembered about the show being great was still there, but what I’d forgotten was that Emma and Maggie are really good at fighting with each other. They do this totally bizarre thing where when one is upset with the other, they tell them that they are upset and why. And then, get this, they talk to each other about the problem, and try to resolve the issue without hurting the other’s feelings. It’s completely foreign to to me.
And it’s what makes the show able to tackle darker content without becoming dark itself. I’m not averse to a dark show. But as we here at Pajiba are fond of pointing out, darkness does not equal depth. Conversely, lightness does not equal insubstantial. The fact that the show doesn’t center on an anti-hero isn’t a fault. Prestige TV should not mean specifically that a show makes you feel icky for watching the irrevocable slide into soul crushing dysfunction and depravity. Playing House has depth, it has substance, and it has meaningful plots. But it also feels good to watch. It feels, and I can’t believe I’m using this as a compliment, nice. The fact that you know everything will be neatly resolved at the end of the episode isn’t a function of a manufactured story-line, but because the show is about the process of interpersonal issues.
Now, yes, there is an extent to which the show whitewashes (literally in some cases, the show is set in Connecticut after all) some of the more difficult emotions that would accompany a lot of the stories. It’d be hard to imagine Bruce and Maggie would transition from couple to friends as easily as they did. Or that Emma and her mother would be able to resolve their years-long estrangement without some level of hard feelings. Because, by and large, family members aren’t estranged without some level of dysfunction. In those ways, it’s an idealized version of problems that normal families face. Hence the comparison to Leave It To Beaver. And I’m OK with that. What you’re talking about then is a show that’s funny and entertaining while being emotionally heavy yet somehow still optimistic. They’re basically telling us, “Yeah, you’ll have some pretty serious problems. Here’s how you can work through them,” and they do so while throwing in Bosephus. They’re throwing some much needed light into an entirely too dark world. Bless them for that.
Emily Chambers will be spending her long holiday emulating Emma by drinking white wine. She might tweet about it. You can follow her here.