Take My Wife is a warm and funny new sitcom that follows the lives, hardships, and professional pitfalls of two standup comedians in Los Angeles, who also happen to be a lesbian couple. The operative phrase here is "happen to be"; this show has no interest in sensationalizing their sexuality or congratulating itself on portraying it faithfully. They’re just people, trying to do a job, and make us laugh along the way.
The series stars and is written by two people who know that life well: the comedians, writers, and real-life spouses Cameron Esposito and Rhea Butcher. The six-episode series is set to drop in its entirety on Thursday, August 11, on the streaming network Seeso — but starting now, you can stream the first episode early, exclusively on Vox.
Take My Wife centers on Cameron and Rhea — lightly fictionalized versions of Esposito and Butcher — and chronicles their lives both as working comics and as a couple. Said lives involve hard work, heartbreak, and lots of practicing jokes onstage and at home, with the added challenge of navigating their romantic relationship while they pursue the same career (with varying degrees of success).
I’ve been a fan of both Esposito and Butcher for years, since I first saw "Put Your Hands Together," the standup show they continue to host together at the Upright Citizens Brigade theater in LA. Take My Wife is smart in the way it incorporates their real-life chemistry as both comedians and partners, and refreshing as hell in the way it depicts a lesbian couple without a social justice agenda or an eye for fetishization. They’re just living their lives, as humans. (Whoa, right?)
I caught up with Esposito and Butcher last week to get some insight into how Take My Wife came together and what they wanted to achieve with the series — which, as it turns out, has changed quite a bit from inception to execution.
Take My Wife began as a standup comedy show, but quickly evolved into a scripted series
"This was an unusual path to making this show," says Esposito. At first, she and Butcher sold a TV series to Seeso that would essentially be a filmed version of "Put Your Hands Together," but with some bonus sketches about Esposito and Butcher’s home life featured between standup sets.
"Then we got in the writers’ room to write the sketches, and realized that [they were] actually the whole show," Esposito says. Luckily, Seeso agreed. "I’m so glad they were into it, because I really think this was the show we were supposed to make."
For help parsing through their lives for material, they turned to Shauna McGarry, Take My Wife’s head writer, who, according to Butcher, approaches TV like "somebody who looks at a Rubik’s Cube and can see the solve before you’ve even taken it out of the packaging."
Together, they worked on honing the series’ tone and bringing out each comedian’s particular style — Esposito embraces a brash swagger, while Butcher favors a cool deadpan — in an authentic and narratively satisfying way.
"You know what’s weird? Having a room full of people pitch [stories about] fights that you might have because of your personality quirks," Esposito laughs.
Then there’s the fact that the particular segment of their lives that Take My Wife concerns — the months preceding their marriage — isn’t actually that far in the past. After all, they only got married six months ago.
"Pretty much the entirety of our married life has been making this show," Esposito says.
"It’s basically our honeymoon," Butcher says, tagging her wife’s line with another joke — though let’s be real, there’s probably some truth in it.
It was important to Esposito and Butcher that Take My Wife portray a lesbian couple in a low-key, realistic way
In the first scene of Take My Wife’s second episode, Rhea and Cameron are talking in bed, discussing whether or not they’ll have sex on the hypothetical TV show about their lives. Aside from being a cheeky acknowledgment of the fact that we’re watching them have this conversation on an actual TV show about their lives, the conversation was a real one they had to have offscreen.
Independent of how they each felt about acting in sex scenes, the real-life Butcher and Esposito were both aware of what including sex scenes in Take My Wife could mean for lesbian representation onscreen in general, which tends to be either grossly fetishized or completely absent. Both women felt at least some responsibility to portray realistic, non-sensationalized lesbian sex on television, where it is almost impossible to find.
Esposito, who likes diving into challenges headfirst, was all for it. Butcher, ever pragmatic and with fewer acting credits on her résumé, was more hesitant.
"There’s always going to be power in showing something that is typically unseen," says Butcher, "but at the same time, I’m also a person, and I also want to do this job, and having nudity in one of the first things I do really scared me. Looking at women’s bodies in pop culture is so ingrained. And screenshots live forever!"
Consequently, Take My Wife’s approach to sex ended up somewhere in between Esposito and Butcher’s initial feelings on the topic, while taking care not to portray their relationship a fetishized way. Added Esposito, "What I realized [is that] there’s actually something powerful about having lesbian characters in a relationship, and the footage doesn’t go into slow motion when they kiss."
Of course, that’s assuming viewers see any kissing to begin with. "Lesbian sexuality is made to be very exotic," Butcher says. As an example, the women pointed to the last flight Esposito took, which aired an edited version of the highly acclaimed 2015 film Carol — a lesbian love story — that didn’t show a single kiss between the movie’s two leading women.
So, yes: As basic as it seems, letting two lesbians kiss however they want onscreen is somehow still a sticking point.
"The kisses we engage in on the show … are kind of goofy, because it is a comedy," Esposito says. "On King of Queens, there’s no moment where Kevin James is suddenly sexily whipping off his shirt. On I Love Lucy, that is a couple that’s supposed to be in love, and there are sweet moments between them, but it’s not hypersexualized. That’s not what the show’s about."
It feels a little silly to keep emphasizing that Take My Wife is just about people, but such is the state of media today that the existence of a down to earth comedy about two women loving their jobs and each other is rare enough to bear repeating. It’s understandable that Esposito and Butcher would feel some pressure to deliver, given the confusing lack of anything else quite like their show.
But they know that they’re funny, and that can — and should — be enough.
Take My Wife premieres on Seeso on August 11.