TV right now is awash in nuanced, subversive, romantic comedies, from You’re the Worst to Love to The Mindy Project to Crazy Ex-Girlfriend. Many of these shows find humor in contemporary dating gaffes — texting accidents, commitment anxiety, and awkward sexual mishaps. But Take My Wife is different. The new Seeso series about standup comics/girlfriends Cameron and Rhea (co-creators and real-life wives Cameron Esposito and Rhea Butcher) is the NBC streaming service’s first real sitcom, and it’s a slam dunk: Charming, romantic, and casually progressive, Take My Wife is a lo-fi comedy about the terror and thrill of commitment.
To begin with, there’s no will-they-won’t-they tension between the show’s central couple — the first episode begins right after Cameron and Rhea’s wedding, then flashes back to a year earlier. Cameron is a rising star who hosts a standup showcase in L.A.; Rhea is an aspiring comic whose passion takes a backseat to her day job designing logos for “Uncle Bob’s Fish Sticks.” Esposito may be the name-recognition half of this couple, but over the course of six half-hour episodes, Butcher emerges as the show’s ballast, a dynamic which mirrors the onscreen relationship between the two women.
It would be easy to describe Take My Wife as a show about a lesbian couple, but for the most part their domestic routine resembles that of any live-in partnership. Their opposite work schedules mean they keep missing each other; Rhea’s habit of leaving her crusty cereal bowls in the sink drives Cameron crazy. (“I’m the one who’s gonna wash them later so it shouldn’t even bother you.” “Uhhhhhh it does.”) Only small details that set them apart from a hetero couple, like a close-up shot of their lace-up boots arranged side by side in the closet or Cameron’s routine swiping of Rhea’s clothes. We see them cuddling in bed, but there’s nothing prurient here — more “aww” than “aww yeah.”
Take My Wife is also a window onto the lives of women working in the male-dominated field of comedy, which the show manages to critique without vilifying. The series was initially conceived as a standup show, based on the weekly showcase Esposito and Butcher host at L.A.’s UCB Theatre, and much of the action takes place on- and offstage at the comedy club where Cameron eventually convinces Rhea to join her as co-host of her show (which gives the series occasion to feature guest stars like Maria Bamford.)
In the second episode, the two get onstage after a male comic (Matt Braunger) performs a set that includes a rape joke. “I’m sorry,” Rhea says. “I’m just reliving past personal trauma through the rape jokes and rape conversation that’s been going on tonight.” “Why is it that the only dudes who will talk about rape are dude comics?” Cameron says. “And then it’s just like, all the time.” Later, the comic who made the joke apologizes and invites Cameron to be the opening act on his upcoming tour. He’s not a bad guy — just a dude making a joke that he doesn’t realize will statistically bring up unwanted feelings for many women (and men) in the audience.
Like the sexuality of the couple at the show’s center, such potentially political moments aren’t belabored; they simply are. Take My Wife has an easy charm, thanks to Cameron and Rhea’s relationship, which has enough tension to keep the show interesting but not so much that you seriously doubt its viability. Cameron is more successful, but Rhea’s got the cool points — she smooths over Cameron’s jagged edges, while Cameron coaxes Rhea out of her deadpan protective shell. Rhea wants to make her own way, without her girlfriend’s influence, but she has student loan debt that Cameron doesn’t know about. “You can’t be a standup and also care about your day job!” Cameron admonishes her girlfriend, but for Rhea, it’s not a “day job” — it’s a lifeline.
At the end of the first episode, Cameron gets onstage and delivers a paean to her career and partner, both of whom she was able to freely choose: “How many people get to choose what they get to do? Like, nobody, right? Just to invent out of thin air what you want to do. And it’s terrible and lonely. And I love it.” She turns to look at Rhea, who’s glued to her phone backstage. “And I feel like relationships can be that way, too. I’m a gay woman. A couple of years ago I wouldn’t have gotten to choose who I ended up with, and now I can. And it’s a privilege.”
By the end of the season, Rhea’s dawning realization that she can do this comedy thing for real emerges as the show’s strongest arc. The storyline is indicative of the sense of hope that radiates from the warm center of this show. Like entering a marriage, embarking on a creative career is a leap of faith. But it’s a privilege just to have the opportunity to jump.
All six episodes of Take My Wife are streaming on Seeso as of today.