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Arts & Life

What To Watch While On Vacation

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

I'm off next week. There's just too much TV to watch. Actually, I'll probably watch nothing. What might I miss? We'll turn now to Melanie McFarland, TV critic at Salon.com. She joins us now from member station KUOW in Seattle. Melanie, thanks for being back with us.

MELANIE MCFARLAND: Thank you so much for having me again.

SIMON: Let me ask you about a comedy series of which I've seen a little and like a lot, "Playing House." Best friend moves back from China, where she's run a business to help her friend be a single mother with Jessica St. Clair and Lennon Parham.

MCFARLAND: Oh, it's such a fun series. And it's - you know, the thing is right now, particularly this summer, there are so many series on that are exploring female friendships and female relationships. This one is extraordinary in that not only are these characters best friends, but they have put together a family out of the two of them.

SIMON: And I gather, in the third season, real life kind of intruded in the lives of the two creators.

MCFARLAND: Yeah, so this season is really interesting because you have these established characters. And people who watch the show are already kind of familiar with their dynamic. I mean, they're incredibly immature. They've been arrested multiple times. They're very caring parents. But at the same time, they haven't really faced a major challenge in the form of a, you know, life threatening disease. And so, at one point, they're kind of playing. And one of them is trying to get the other to ask a colleague out. And in the course of this, they discover that Emma has breast cancer.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "PLAYING HOUSE")

JESSICA ST. CLAIR: (As Emma Crawford) I found it. What about this tweed jammer for the doctor's appointment? Very Jackie O'?

LENNON PARHAM: (As Maggie Caruso) It's too formal.

ST. CLAIR: (As Emma Crawford) You know, she had cancer. I googled it last night.

PARHAM: (As Maggie Caruso) Stop googling. I'm going to put a parent lock on your computer.

ST. CLAIR: (As Emma Crawford) Why don't you put a lock on this? Hey, does this make you want to cure my cancer?

PARHAM: (As Maggie Caruso) Go back in there, Arsenio Hall.

ST. CLAIR: (As Emma Crawford) Hold on a second. Does this change things? If I were just to throw this on casually?

PARHAM: (As Maggie Caruso) Who throws on a beret casually?

ST. CLAIR: (As Emma Crawford) OK.

PARHAM: (As Maggie Caruso) Hey, why are we obsessing about what we're going to wear?

ST. CLAIR: (As Emma Crawford) If she likes me, maybe she's going to work harder to get the cancer out of me.

PARHAM: (As Maggie Caruso) That's not how it works.

ST. CLAIR: (As Emma Crawford) It is how it works.

MCFARLAND: This actually mirrors the life story of these - the two actresses.

SIMON: Yeah. Jessica St. Clair actually did have a mastectomy.

MCFARLAND: Yes. So they pulled elements of what they actually experienced into the story. And although it's fairly fantastical and has this wonderful ending where they actually kind of pull in a few contestants from "RuPaul's Drag Race," it's fairly true to what their experience was.

SIMON: You brought us something you think is good binging.

MCFARLAND: Right now, Netflix has a number of series that are very easy to watch just in terms of being able to pick up a series that have been on for a couple of seasons, and one of them is "Being Mary Jane." And it's a very insightful look into what it's like to come up as a career woman who has ambition but, at the same time, wants to experience love and really lasting love and the choices that a woman has to make.

And so Gabrielle Union plays Mary Jane Paul. And in this season, she is going on the national stage as an anchor on "Great Day USA." And she is really trying to get to her anchor position the right way. But she actually ends up kind of becoming an Eve Harrington character.

SIMON: We should explain. Eve Harrington character that, you know, is from the movie "All About Eve." And Anne Baxter played the young - the conniving younger woman who's - is - both pretends to help Bette Davis all the while she has a ship out for her.

MCFARLAND: Yes, exactly. And this is one of those series where Mary Jane is in the position of being Eve Harrington. Now, in the movie "All About Eve," Eve is clearly the villain. But in "Being Mary Jane," she's actually seen as someone who is on this journey that's kind of understandable. Her climb is something that everybody can relate to in a way that I don't think is being seen on television in, you know, in a really thoughtful way.

SIMON: Do you know what my family and I've done a little binge watching?

MCFARLAND: What's that?

SIMON: "Great British Baking Show."

MCFARLAND: Oh, my goodness. And that one goes down really easy. Plus, if you live in a hot climate, there's nothing more satisfying than to - if you - especially if you know that you can't turn on - if you don't have air conditioning, there's nothing more satisfying than to see something that looks so airy and light and cool. And then you can look and see people baking wonderful things. It's a - that's a beautiful show. And it's a great binge watching option.

SIMON: Melanie McFarland, a TV critic at Salon. Thanks so much for being with us.

MCFARLAND: Thank you so much.

(SOUNDBITE OF LEAGUES SONG, "LOST IT ALL") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.