Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Playing House: “Knotty Pine”

Illustration for article titled Playing House: “Knotty Pine”

Playing House, in its short run, has done something very specific with its writing: It has largely created its own vernacular. Take “Body be banging,” which could have been this throwaway phrase that has cropped up throughout the show’s run. Hell, there are even t-shirts. These phrases are throwback jokes—Easter eggs for fans—without closing the show off to potential new viewers (“Body be banging” is funnier the fifth time you hear it, but it can still be funny the first time). These phrases also create a vocabulary among friends. When two people spend an inordinate amount of time together, they to pick up each other’s vocal tics, augmenting them and adopting them for their own purposes—take Maggie adopting Rod Rockman’s (Jack McBrayer) Southern accent when they gossiped. It’s one of the aspects of the show that gives it this incredibly familiar feel. In “Cashmere Burka,” I talked about how Playing House was adept at creating this town of Pinebrook feel real by using minor characters in the cast when it could have been any rando extra. In “Knotty Pine,” what comes through to create community is this shared language between Maggie and Emma that we, as an audience, are apart of: We are Playing House fans, we are legion, our bodies always be banging. “Knotty Pine” was an excellent culmination of jokes culled from the series, especially in terms of that vocabulary that Maggie and Emma use.

Because Playing House is really about the love story between these two women, it’s at is best when Maggie and Emma team up against the world, namely in their dance fight with Buck Finch (Rob Riggle), who has broken up 11 marriages in Pinewood’s county alone and four in the Philippines. There this controlled chaos going on around them, but the action is entirely focused on their own ridiculous behavior. “Good thing I packed my body rolls!” Maggie says, as she launches into battle to protect Bird Bones from her own libido, once again bringing in this learned vocabulary from the show.

But what made “Knotty Pines” great was not that it was funny—all these episodes are funny. It’s that it had this fabulous moment of emotional resonance, made even more unexpected because the episode’s A-plot begins with Buck Finch talking about holes and hard wood. Both Keegan-Michael Key and Lindsay Sloane were exceptional in their break up scene. They don’t hate each other, there is not tangible reason for them to get divorced but their relationship should not be this hard. It was a lovely show of depth from both actors, but certainly not something new to Playing House (if you didn’t get a little dust in your during “Let’s Have a Baby,” there is something wrong with you). It’s these moments that elevate Playing House above USA’s other blue skies comedies: There’s a genuine emotional center at the heart of the show. Even more so, Playing House is so wholly focused on its main characters, and yet this emotionally hefty moment comes between two secondary characters, one of whom the audience has been trained to hate since the pilot. But what capped off the episode was not between Mark and Bird Bones, but between Mark, Emma, and Maggie. Their show of friendship at the end was entirely what this show has been built on since the beginning. “I don’t know what to do next,” Mark says in a moment of pure honesty. Maggie replies with the best answer: “If you happen to have a best friend that could get you into all sorts of scrapes, that really helped me out.”

Stray observations

  • Special shout out to Vera Santamaria who wrote “Knotty Pine” (she also wrote “37 Weeks”). It was quite clever. Take Emma’s line: ”Why do we need to build houses for birds? Birds be doing it for themselves.” It seems like a such a call back to “Drumline’s” “Cause sisters by the way are doing it for themselves!” Except birds actually do build their own houses.
  • I hope “dong-wronging” becomes part of the Playing House vernacular because it certainly is becoming a part of mine.
  • “Someone wrote turd on every vending machine in town.” … “I have other crimes to solve!” “Like who wrote ‘burglar’ under turn? It was me.”
  • “I don’t have a model for you yet so I’m using Grimace from a Happy Meal.”
  • “I’m an empty barrel of a man … who is also a DJ.”