Watching an episode of Playing House is like going home to your family. Creators and stars Jessica S. Clair and Lennon Parham make it look like the most comfortable, inviting home ever. That’s because it’s true. They are lifelong best friends in real life and they’ve made their show the same.
Parham and St. Clair invited us for a visit to the set of Maggie’s home in Studio City, CA, at the legendary CBS Radford Studios. Plenty of iconic TV homes have been filmed there, from Seinfeld to The Mary Tyler Moore Show. St. Clair and Parham guided us from the living room to the bedrooms, with guest star Keegan-Michael Key popping in too.
Here are six ways they make Playing House a real home!
1. They’ve Built It to Be Perfect
Season two was filmed at a real location in Glendale. In order to save money and produce more episodes, they left the soundstage. Now they’re back in the studio, which costs more, but they’ve recreated the same house perfectly.
“You didn’t notice, hopefully,” St. Clair said. “It’s much nicer to be on a stage. It gives us a lot more flexibility to go faster.”
2. It’s Totes ‘Girl Porn’
The house Maggie and Emma live in should be a dream home for any of us! It’s designed to have what women want, like that movie. That’s on purpose.
“[What Women Want writer/director] Nancy Meyers is somebody we always name check,” St. Clair said. “She creates these worlds that are very girl porn movie. But we wanted it even to be even more layered than that. It’s the fantasy of what it’s like to live with your best friend. What’s the house you’d have if you lived with your best friend and it was one constant sleepover?”
And, trust us, everything on the set is there for a reason.
“We said to our set designer that we need it to feel like girl porn, like the house you’re dying to live in,” St. Clair said. “Anthropology catalogs are a good example of it. When I’m sitting here, I’m just looking at the light fixtures, all these little vintage details, the stove and all this stuff. This is the kind of stuff that only girls notice. Like what is this hurricane lamp? These little spices. You feel it in the background and it feels like a real house because our relationship is so real, we wanted the house to feel real but not necessarily like your house on a Thursday night when you haven’t cleaned in a while.”
Creating the show has its advantages. St. Clair now gets to live Playing House even when she’s not filming.
“In fact, I hired our set designer to do my house when I was away so it look like Playing House,” she said.
3. The Kids Play Together
Both St. Clair and Parham have young children, and they play together on the set. There’s Parham’s newborn and his older sister Saraya, who inspired the show to begin with. St. Clair has baby Isobel. So if you like watching one baby coo on the show, imagine that times three on the set!
It's the same thing that we did the first season when we both had infants," Parham said. "It’s a really nice place to bring your baby. It's also nice for me to go do what I love, and then also see who I love.”
Parham’s daughter Saraya and St. Clair’s Isobel may grow up to be the next female comedy creator duo!
“What's pretty crazy is we have daughters who are five months apart who, I have to say, are, like, clones of us,” St. Clair said. “Saraya is all about the rules. Like, just wants to sit and play a board game. And mine's just, like, ‘Who cares?’ And she's just like, ‘Oh, okay. I'll go with it."’ The other day they were in a playhouse actually in Lennon's backyard doing an improv scene, essentially about who wanted grasshopper salad. And it was just like the funniest thing I had ever seen in my life.”
4. The Cast Goes Way Back
Pretty much everyone they cast on Playing House is an old friend from their improv days. That also makes the set like a family. Key and St. Clair are especially close.
“Jess and I, we are very good friends,” Key said. “Jessica St. Clair and I are, other than two strands of DNA, we are exactly the same person. The way we speak, the way we think. Lennon knows me well enough that she plays me in the improvisations. So, I know when I come on set, everything is going to just fit. It all feels right.”
Since everyone on set comes from an improvisation background, from Upright Citizens Brigade to Second City, there’s a lot of “yes, and...” going on.
"All three of us speak a similar language," Key continued, "and a lot of the writing staff because we're all improvisors. We do not know how to do anything but collaborate. It's all we know. It's the raison d'être for any improviser, is that you must collaborate. You get all of your creativity from another person. You know you're doing your job right when you see a reaction from the other person.”
5. The Set Is Always Happy
Parham and St. Clair are just as upbeat in person as they appear on the show. Then they hire other people who make the set happy too, including Key.
“He's the happiest man alive,” St. Clair said. “Everyone [on set] says, like, ‘Keegan's here!’" you know.
6. They Keep In Touch With Fans Too
The viewers of Playing House are part of the family too. They may not visit the set, but whenever they see Parham and St. Clair in public they become part of the family, and the stars take that back to the set with them.
“I'll be in a Target parking lot and, like, emptying, like, my huge cartload into my trunk because that's where I go for Zen,” Parham said. “And a woman with a toddler will hear my voice, even, and be like, ‘Are you Maggie? Are you from Playing House? Oh, my God. I can't tell you, I binged your show while I was breastfeeding. It was everything to me,’ or something like that. We'll get personal. Someone's dog just died, and they were, like, ‘Binged your show, made me feel better.’”
Even if you don’t see them in person, they will write back to you. And they appreciate your gifts, like you, Savannah in Texas!
“There's a 16-year-old that I really believe we were separated at birth,” St. Clair said. “She makes me mix CDs!”
See a tour of the Playing House set, hosted by Jessica St. Claire: