“Take my wife…please,” goes the classic joke by Borscht Belt comedian Henny Youngman. In their new Seeso show, “Take My Wife,” stand-up comedians and real-life married couple Cameron Esposito and Rhea Butcher have given Youngman’s joke a 21st century twist, adapting it into a cheeky title befitting comedy’s newest gem.
“Take My Wife” is the story of Cameron and Rhea, playing fictionalized versions of themselves, two lady-identified comics who date each other. The series begins with their wedding night, then cuts to six months earlier, when Rhea is working a graphic design job she hates and Cameron is fielding podcast questions about what it’s like to be a woman in comedy. (“My favorite question!”)
The two comics host the wildly popular stand-up show and podcast “Put Your Hands Together” in real life, and much of the series takes place backstage and onstage at a version of the live show. When Rhea turns down a gig because she’s too busy with her day job, Cameron cajoles her into quitting onstage. It’s only after the theater empties out that reality sets in.
Much like predecessors “Seinfeld,” or “Louie,” the stand-up bits in “Take My Wife” relate to the sketches without overpowering the show. (Originally pitched to Seeso as a live stand-up show, Butcher and Esposito later expanded the scope — and the budget.) “Take My Wife” explores the struggles comics face such as bombing, compromising for a paycheck, dating another comic and other financial struggles. Much like in their stand-up, Butcher and Esposito are not afraid to forego a few laughs in favor of tackling deeper subject matter.
Episode two ends on a powerful note about sexual assault. After one of the guest comedians makes a rape joke on their show — an all too common occurrence at comedy shows — Cameron and Rhea very reasonably draw his attention to the fact that he knows sexual assault survivors, he just doesn’t know it. Rhea outs herself first, and then every other character from that episode (including one man) admits being sexually assaulted in quick cutaways. The moment is neither funny nor overly serious. Rather, it is a completely normal and normalizing moment in the show that turns into a quietly radical act.
Unlike its aforementioned predecessors, “Take My Wife” was written entirely by women. Head writer Shauna McGarry (“24,” “Dexter”) adds structure and continuity to the show’s six-episode arc without losing the feeling that you’re just one of the gang.
In addition to the natural romantic buddy dynamic between Cameron and Rhea, “Take My Wife” sports excellent supporting characters, like the wickedly funny Laura Kightlinger (“Will & Grace”), who plays their eccentric neighbor, Frances. Frances is always going through their trash for her art projects, or enquiring about their relationship status after eavesdropping on fights. Zeke Nicholson as Rhea’s friend Dave adds some energy to Butcher’s relaxed charm, striking the perfect balance between adoring and making fun of her. Matt Braunger is excellent as Bob, bravely playing the asshole comic (see: rape joke) who secretly loves them, offering both Cameron and Rhea opportunities by the end of the show.
The heart of the show is the dynamic between Cameron and Rhea, whose energies mimic their comedy styles; Cameron has all the ebullience of a comic on the rise, blissfully ignorant to the more deadpan Rhea’s practical concerns. While Cameron struggles with the indignities success in Hollywood brings, Rhea just wants to write good jokes, never deigning to think she could get paid for it.
Their different levels of success are a nice source of plot tension, though not in the traditional competitive sense. Rhea worries she’ll be given undeserved opportunities simply because of Cameron, while Cameron worries Rhea is cooler than she is.
Seeso is the perfect platform for “Take My Wife,” which plays less like a laugh-out-loud network comedy and more like a quirky show about comedians that earns its laughs organically. But that is not the only line it walks; “Take My Wife” is a show with two lesbian main characters, but it is not a “lesbian show.”
It features no flamboyant caricatures, exploitative sex scenes or dramatic coming out stories. The kisses on “Take My Wife” happen in flannels and sweats, and Rhea’s one scene of butch carpentry ends in a complete failure. Both Cameron and Rhea have interesting haircuts — meaning, they don’t fit the narrow Hollywood model of acceptable femininity — but they’re cute anyway. They talk about being gay and they talk about being women. They also talk about jackets. A lot.
With “Take My Wife,” Seeso adds yet another slam dunk to its already impressive roster of original programming, which includes “Night Train With Wyatt Cenac” and Dan Harmon’s “Harmonquest.” But its the heart and soul in “Take My Wife” that puts it a cut (or a side mullet) above the rest.
“Take My Wife” premieres on Seeso August 11th.