Real-life couple Rhea Butcher and Cameron Esposito make a perfect pair in 'Take My Wife.'
The couple's new show puts a fresh spin on a classic format.
Stop me if you've heard this one before:
Imagine a sitcom based on the life of a stand-up comedian. Maybe there's some stage work thrown in for show, but for the most part, the story follows the life of the comic in his or her everyday life, friendships, romantic relationships, and the like. If that sounds familiar, it's because it's been done many, many times over. Think "Seinfeld" or "Louie," for example.
"Take My Wife," a new sitcom from NBCUniversal's Seeso digital streaming service, manages to take that well-worn premise and transform it into something entirely new and engaging. The story centers on the lives of real-life comics (and real-life couple) Cameron Esposito and Rhea Butcher, a duo in their early-30s living in L.A. who co-host a stand-up show at a local comedy club.
Originally sold as a stand-up show, Esposito and Butcher later re-pitched it as single-camera scripted show built around sketches of their lives off the stage.
"Beyond how awesome stand-up is, we really wanted to talk about, you know, our lives as small business people who happen to do stand-up for a living," Esposito says.
"It's just a sitcom relationship about two people trying to figure out how to make it work." — Cameron Esposito
And it's a good thing they did, because honestly, it's the off-stage material that makes "Take My Wife" stand out from the titles you'll find scattered throughout Netflix, Comedy Central, and HBO. Whether it's Esposito and Butcher's interactions with other comics, scenes of Butcher standing in her living room working on new material, or Esposito's meeting with an old college friend that makes her take stock of her own position in life, there's a lot packed into the roughly 20-minute episodes.
Same-sex couples remain in short supply when it comes to sitcoms. "Take My Wife" wants to change that in a big way.
"I think what I find to be so special about the show and what I hope people like about it is that our relationship and our lives are as normative as anybody's life," says Esposito. "I think we haven't yet seen that on TV. We haven't yet seen a queer couple that is dealt with as if they're any sitcom couple."
"Like, the camera doesn't slow down and candles don't get lit every time that we kiss, or there aren't dudes in our orbit that we may or may not be sleeping with on the side. It's just a sitcom relationship about two people trying to figure out how to make it work."
One of the most impressive aspects of the show is the commitment to pushing back on sometimes harmful tropes used to advance storylines for women, LGBTQ characters, and others.
One of the most hard-hitting examples happens at the beginning of the second episode, in which Butcher and Esposito discuss the merits of sex in a hypothetical TV show starring the two of them.
“I think it’s very important to show two women, I don’t know, being casually intimate with each other, but also, it’s us and we’re real people. We’re a couple," says Butcher in the episode.
"Well, if we don’t do it, then it’s like no actual lesbians on TV having sex with other women," replies Esposito. "And there’s also like no women on TV having sex with other women, period. I mean, maybe that happens, but then like, one of them dies or they both die. They’re warlords and they die or they sleep with a man and then they die or they’re like at school and they die or they’re an art professor and they die. My point is, I just want us to live."
In case you're not picking up what she's putting down, she's not wrong: Queer women tend to not fare too well in modern media. Check out Autostraddle's list of 162 (and counting) fictional lesbian and bisexual women who have been killed off on TV. (For her part, Esposito promises that no queer women will die on "Take My Wife".)
It's a funny show with a lot of substance — just don't expect it to be delivered in some sort of "after-school special" format.
"I think in terms of hot button issues that are often dealt with in [sitcoms] with these sweeping think pieces," says Esposito. "Things like sexual assault and rape jokes and queer people and bathrooms and everything that usually ends up in these very black and white situations where people are firmly against or firmly for it. I think that does a real disservice to talking about how complicated it is just to be a human being today, and there's a gray area to every single issue, and I really think that's the experience of being an outsider in some ways."
"As women, we're outsiders in our profession. As queer people, we're outsiders in the world in general. I think that the positive side of that is that you realize how much nuance there is."