Playing House, Season 2, Episodes 7 and 8, “Officer of the Year” and “Celebrate Me Scones”
Written by Vera Santamaria (“Officer of the Year”), Lennon Parham & Jessica St. Clair (“Celebrate Me Scones”)
Directed by Stuart McDonald
Airs Tuesdays at 10pm (EST) on USA Network
Playing House ends its season with two of its strongest episodes to date, the warmly romantic “Officer of the Year” and the cameo-filled “Celebrate Me Scones,” hinting at what a season three might look like if the show gets renewed. “Officer of the Year” is Jessica St. Clair and Lennon Parham leaning hard into their love of romantic comedies, as Mark and Emma finally admit their feelings for one another at the policeman’s ball. “Celebrate Me Scones” is a buddy comedy of errors, as Maggie, Zach, and Emma attempt to sneak into a Kenny Loggins concert after they are unable to buy tickets. In the show’s timeline, “Celebrate Me Scones” marks one year that Emma has been with Maggie, one year of scrapes, Bosephus alter-egos, Bird Bones woodworking classes, baby raising, and friendship. “Officer of the Year” and “Celebrate Me Scones,” as a pair, are deeply meaningful, zany episodes, a fitting end to the season.
“Officer of the Year” is all soft, low lighting and whispered declarations of love, Playing House at its most romantic. Playing House’s small storytelling miracle is how they’ve made Keegan-Michael Key’s Mark, who just a few episodes ago was running around in a trash bag, a swoon-worthy male lead. It truly is the Keegan-Michael Key renaissance, and “Officer of the Year” does an excellent job of pitching he and St. Clair as the Hanks and Ryan of 2015. There’s nothing incredibly surprising about Emma’s feelings for Mark, or the way that the two of them (literally) dance around each other until finally being honest, but Playing House knows this. Emma and Mark getting back together is inevitable, but Key and St. Clair find moments of genuine emotion and beauty within that inevitability. The entirety of the episode is well-crafted, the way the story moves Mark and Emma between the classic rom-com tropes of bad timing and superfluous boyfriends, but their final scene is something else, something Jane Austen is jealous she didn’t write.
“Celebrate Me Scones” is a true season finale, going bigger than the normal, intimate Pinebrook stories by setting most of the episode at a Kenny Loggins concert. Kenny Loggins has long been used as the soundtrack to Emma and Maggie’s friendship, and Maggie crafts the perfect “thank you” to Emma for her sacrifice in staying to raise Charlotte: a song dedication by Loggins as he plays “Celebrate Me Home,” the song Maggie and Emma sang in the pilot of Playing House. Of course, like any good Playing House episode, it takes about thirteen wacky turns to actually get to that conclusion. Zach accidentally forgets to buy tickets to the concert, and so the three dream up an alternative plan, involving disguises as Jandana and Bosephus, some truly excellent Kenny Loggins song title food puns (“celebrate me scones” and “foot juice” being two examples), Zach’s quick musical romance with guest star Pamela Adlon, and Loggins himself, closing the episode out with an acoustic version of “Celebrate Me Home” as Maggie and Emma harmonize. It’s a big episode, one that manages to pack in some closure around Mark and Emma’s relationship, celebrate Maggie and Emma’s shared history, and add Loggins and Adlon without feeling overstuffed. But “Celebrate Me Scones” is most interested in expressing gratitude, for the years of friendship between Maggie and Emma and their unwavering support of one another throughout all of life’s challenges.
Where “Officer of the Year” and “Celebrate Me Scones” excel, and where Playing House as a whole finds its joy, is in the small details that bring the show to life. “Officer of the Year” remembers Mark and Maggie’s friendship from the second season premiere, as it has them discussing Mark’s feelings towards Emma, all while Mark tries on increasingly silly formal wear. Little moments throughout “Officer of the Year” make the episode, like Bruce and Maggie’s seamless, tandem body rolls to “I Like to Move It,” their favorite dance song; Rabbi Dan’s too-intense pep talks; Mark and Emma’s conversation interrupted by an enthusiastic conga line; and the jealousy-inducing Andie MacDowell look-a-like. Details like these, or ones like Zach’s eyeliner-wearing, badly British disguise in “Celebrate Me Scones,” are why Playing House works: because it’s fun. St. Clair and Parham have created a show where everyone gets to play, old improv friends and new actors alike, and that sense of fun and playfulness permeates every scene. These are people that genuinely enjoy each other’s company, that root for each other to succeed, that try not to take life so seriously but do acknowledge how hard that can be sometimes. It’s a rare thing in television, and worth recognizing.
Press about Playing House usually discusses St. Clair and Lennon Parham’s friendship as the focal point of the show, and they’re not wrong, but in its second season it expanded its scope and found new depths of storytelling. It’s not only a show about Emma and Maggie’s friendship, but a show about the odd, weirdly delightful small town of Pinebrook, with a cast of characters aiming to rival Stars Hollow. And this year, Playing House became a show about divorce, about recovering after unexpected life events, about healing with friends and froyo. At this point it seems like there’s nothing the show can’t tackle with openness, grace, and humor; at every turn, Parham and St. Clair have created a world that can contain all of the dichotomies of real life, sorrow and celebration side-by-side, even in the same scene. Playing House has added joyously to television in its second season, with strong storytelling and anchored by honest performances, and hopefully it will be back for a third season before long.