Not every interview starts with the subject, in this case Lennon Parham, explaining the meal she's chowing down on—a medium rare cheeseburger. But not every show is as special as Playing House, the comedy Parham co-created with real-life best friend Jessica St. Clair (St. Clair was putting down her daughter for a nap and would join the call after sampling and discussing in detail Parham's French fries: they were not quite steak fries and had the skin on them). The cult-hit series about a new mom and her best friend who returns to town to help her care for the baby was basically dead in the water after a low-rated, yet critically-acclaimed first season. Parham freely admitted she and St. Clair thought the show was over (even if fans hadn't given up).
"Oh yes, fully. We had fully given up hope," Parham told E! News with a laugh. "We were trying to put it away and grieve it because there was really no chance of us coming back, so we started to try and write other stuff. It was just basically all movies about Bird Bones [Lindsay Sloane's character], so we were like, ‘We can't. What are we going to do?' We just had so many more stories to tell. It was really hard to say goodbye to Pinebrook."
But the ladies had a champion in their corner from Universal Cable Productions. An executive pushed and pushed and came up with a way for the series to return to life, albeit in a somewhat unique way with built-in partnerships and on-demand viewing.
"When he called us, we were on conference call. Jess was shooting The McCarthys and I was at my house, probably reorganizing the linen closet, again—I bought so many baskets in my sadness—and basically he called and he was like, ‘Are you sitting down?' and we were like, ‘What? What is the bad news?' We thought they were going officially announce it's over, and he was like, ‘You're picked up.' And we said, ‘Expletive! Shut the f—k up! What the f—k are you talking about?' All this stuff you can't print. I thought he was pulling a prank on us, he's got a weird sense of humor, I love him, but he was being legit and we literally didn't believe it until we sat down with everybody at a conference table and they explained to us how it was going to work because we really thought it was over."
Yes, Playing House is indeed back, and the jokes are sharper. They come fast and frequent in the first two-episodes of season two.
"We never had a second season of anything, even other people's shows, I didn't really know what that was like. To be honest we were like, ‘If this our last season'—like that Tim McGraw song ‘Live Like You Were Dying'—you gotta go for it. Everything is going to be funny if it's not funny, we're throwing it out the door. If it's not fun, we're not doing it and we just were totally going for it," Parham said. Such stories that were thrown out the window were any related to the baby. "We decided early on that we didn't want to do any baby-centric stories," St. Clair said. "Like, they go to Mommy and Me? Snooze. I was bored by going to Mommy and Me and I certainly didn't want to write about it."
"I loved Mommy and Me. I would go every day of my life. I had fun. I thought it was the best thing ever," Parham said. "I tried to write a Mommy and Me story and we threw it out the window." Instead, the comics used the baby to raise the stakes for their characters. "The one thing that both Lennon and I experienced is, when you have a baby, especially when you have a baby girl, is you really want to be the best person you can be for this baby," St. Clair said.
There's a new edge to season two, which you can probably attribute to Parham's new Tim McGraw-inspired line of thinking, or if you want to believe St. Clair..."First of all, we don't give a shit anymore," St. Clair said. "We're just like basically—"
"That's not true," Parham interjected.
"No, but we don't ever think anymore what anyone else will find funny," St. Clair finished.
"That's also not true," Parham quickly added.
"If we remotely want to pursue something, we do. There wasn't a lot of second-guessing on this season," St. Clair said. "I think because it took so long for the show to get picked up, that when it finally got picked up, we felt like let's just let it rip. So it's almost like we get in that zone in improv when you're performing on stage where you get in that sweet spot—you're not really conscious of what you're doing. I felt that's how the writers room felt."
The wait for the show's return and the fact that both women are moms to young children has created a new mindset for the fan-favorite comics.
"We're not messing around with our time. We're there, we're working, we're doing it, and we're not second-guessing ourselves anymore ‘cause we just don't have time for it. That was the clarity that came when we had babies and motherhood came to us," Parham added. "That's also what's happening to these girls in this season. You'll see that parallel a lot, in our real lives and in the show, but more in a small town comedic way."
And they do go for it. Parham said they made a list of guest stars they wanted to play with, including Kenny Loggins, and they accomplished the goals. There's even a risqué cameo from Property Brothers stars Drew Scott and Jonathan Scott. They're involved in a sex dream. "It was crazy, man," Parham said with a laugh.
"Chris, they were in white jeans that were two sizes too small for them, so we could see everything," St. Clair said. "You know what I'm saying?"
"They did say they were the tightest pants they've ever put on," Parham added.
"We could see which tools they had to work with," St. Clair said. While behind the scenes she heard an unexpected interaction between Parham and Drew Scott. "I hear Drew say to Lennon, ‘Is it OK if I lick your neck?' To which Lennon replied with what, Len?" St. Clair said.
"'Yes it is,'" Parham, a self-professed fan of the HGTV stars Drew and Jonathan Scott, said. In fact, she admitted to creeping them out with her knowledge of their TV careers and the players involved. "I don't lie about that stuff," she said. "If I'm a fan, I'm a fan for life."
It's safe to say Parham and St. Clair have amassed fans for life with Playing House.
Playing House season two premieres Tuesday, Aug. 4 at 10 p.m. on USA.
(E! and USA are both part of the NBCUniversal family.)