Take My Wife is the only show on television that’s centered on two women who are comics and also lesbians, but that singularity doesn’t make it niche. Cameron Esposito and Rhea Butcher’s new scripted Seeso series is specific—Esposito and Butcher play, respectively, Cameron and Rhea, two stand-ups in a relationship—but it breathes with relatable conflict and comedy. It unpacks big ideas in its up-close-and-personal world.
Most of all, Take My Wife is authentic. That’s unsurprising given its firm roots in reality: Spouses in real life, Esposito and Butcher play slightly exaggerated versions of themselves in a slightly heightened universe. The series begins with Rhea quitting her graphic design day job to pursue comedy full-time, a few steps behind in her career from Cameron, who hosts her own weekly show. When Rhea quits her job, Cameron gleefully brings her on as a co-host, and the two have to navigate the murky waters of being both in a relationship and also trying to make it in comedy. (The fact that they’re two comics in a relationship causes a bigger stir among other characters than the fact that they’re two women who are in a relationship.)
In real life, when Esposito added Butcher as the co-host of her Upright Citizens Brigade show, Put Your Hands Together, their on-stage banter quickly became the best part of the weekly stand-up showcase. It’s no surprise then that a TV show built entirely on the foundation of their relationship and careers radiates on the fuel of their irresistible chemistry. Esposito and Butcher are different comics and different people, but their disparate senses of humor and personalities come together to great comedic effect. A discussion of what brand of Sigourney Weaver they are, in particular, stands out, as well as pretty much any time the characters are on stage.
Take My Wife transcends the “lesbian show” label without completely ignoring aspects of lesbian culture in its portrayal of Cameron and Rhea’s lives. There are jokes that will especially resonate with gay viewers—Rhea carries a multitool on her at all times, and reminds Cameron that they’re feminists when Cameron can’t stop talking about ogling a movie star’s boobs—but Take My Wife has a strong ownership over jokes like these, because they’re being delivered by real-life lesbians. Rhea and Cameron talk candidly about being gay, but they have relationship problems and experiences that transcend sexuality. “Punchline” opens on Rhea and Cameron in bed, wondering aloud if a future show based on their lives will feature lesbian sex scenes. It’s a question Esposito and Butcher grappled with, and in this brief scene they manage to touch on several sides of the conversation, unspooling media’s failures to accurately and meaningfully portray lesbian relationships. Rhea doesn’t want to oversexualize or objectify their bodies, and Cameron wants to show two women having sex because it isn’t something often seen on television.
Take My Wife ends up somewhere in the middle: Physical intimacy is both shown and talked about on the show, but it isn’t gratuitous and doesn’t allow for the kind of fetishization and male-gaze bullshit that lesbian sex is often treated to on television. The “Punchline” conversation is one of several meta moments in the first season, but the self-awareness never seems gimmicky. It’s smart, biting meta-commentary that works on more levels than just being self-referential. While discussing sex on television, Cameron devolves into a hilarious and too real rant on how lesbians are always dying on television. And the series more overtly breaks the fourth wall later on in the episode with a gut-punching sequence of several characters declaring that they’re survivors of sexual assault.
The series lives in the world of stand-up comedy, brimming with insider jokes about the industry. But Take My Wife isn’t plagued with the kind of Hollywood navel-gazing that threatens to isolate viewers who don’t live in Los Angeles. The comedy here is certainly specific, but it’s backed by broader, more universal character work and relationship dynamics. Cameron struggles with loneliness. Rhea struggles to reconcile needing help with wanting to be independent. They both struggle to find the balance between sharing their lives and being overly co-dependent. Their broader, more relatable problems are filtered through the hyper-specific world of Los Angeles. Take My Wife has a distinct voice, but it never feels claustrophobic. Much of the show’s emotional narrative hinges on Rhea, and Butcher delivers a subtle performance within the over-the-top, sometimes stylized show. After a male comedian churns out a rape joke on stage, the camera dolly zooms to Cameron and Rhea, and the latter subsequently unravels.
That dolly zoom is one of many creative directing moves made by Sam Zvibleman that takes Take My Wife to the next level. The series’ production design is striking throughout, and while the richest scenes are the most grounded ones, the moments when Zvibleman has some fun with it—like the very intense montage of Rhea assembling what she believes to be a couch—inject some imagination into the show.
When Esposito and Butcher first sold Take My Wife to Seeso, it looked more like a stand-up show with some sketches thrown in—essentially a souped-up version of Put Your Hands Together. In the writers’ room, that changed, and the show morphed into a more serialized, structured comedy. It’s refreshing to see Esposito and Butcher doing something a little different than what they’ve become known for while still playing to their strengths. And Take My Wife can tackle more complex and layered stories than it would otherwise be able to as a stand-up/sketch hybrid. With the help of several talented guest stars from the L.A. comedy scene—some playing versions of themselves and others, like Janet Varney and Kulap Vilaysack, playing characters—Take My Wife quickly builds and fleshes out its detailed, zippy world in just six tight episodes. The show puts its characters first. It doesn’t have an overt agenda, but it does offer a much more real and lively representation of lesbians than the static stereotypes and tropes that dominate television.