By the end of the Take My Wife pilot, fledgling comic Rhea (Rhea Butcher) quits her job designing logos for fish-stick boxes to pursue stand-up full-time. The idea comes from Rhea’s girlfriend, Cameron (Cameron Esposito), a more established comic who’s sympathetic toward but doesn’t quite get Rhea’s insecurities about being the lesser partner in the same field. Marriage lurks around the corner — the flash-forwarding opening scene catches the two women just after their wedding — but their relationship is weighed down by worries about money, status, and possible competition.
Most of the time, though, Cameron and Rhea are on the same page: on rape jokes (nope), pregnancy (nope), Sigourney Weaver (yes, please), and Maria Bamford (they’re not worthy). Played by real-life married couple Esposito and Butcher, the two share a layered and lived-in bond that instantly feels true. Despite the lo-fi budget and the stars’ noticeable inexperience in front of the camera, Take My Wife’s six episodes arrive on the comedy streaming site Seeso today (August 11) fully formed and charmingly hilarious.
Movies and TV shows by and about comedians can disappear up their own butts. But Take My Wife manages to be both specific and relatable, in part because their struggles in comedy are so recognizable. Rhea plays the traditional wifely role of being ignored by mutual colleagues and wondering whether her opportunities come along because she earned them individually or because of who she’s dating. In contrast to Cameron, the socially anxious Rhea also lacks the extroversion necessary for a career in showbiz; she’s got too much dignity to repeatedly beg the same group of people for a club spot. But life in the middle isn’t all roses for Cameron. She’s flush enough to encourage Rhea to quit her job and to afford the occasional grand gesture, but her Twitter feed is a sewage pipe full of sexist and homophobic bullshit, and it’s a big deal for her when she’s asked to open for a more successful — and way more toxic — straight white male comedian. “As you can tell by my hair,” she cracks on his stage about her side mullet, “I am a ThunderCat.” The silence of her audience’s rejection is deafening.
Butcher and Esposito make fun of (male) interviewers asking the tired “What’s it like being a woman in comedy?” question, but they’re also eager to tell us how exhaustingly microaggressive it can be. Bamford appears in the second episode (the best of the batch), letting her squeaky freak flag fly as an example of a female stand-up who simply has no interest in heteronormative anything — and thus has remained a “comedian’s comedian.” Even more wonderful to see is Laura Kightlinger — a veteran comic I didn’t realize how much I missed until seeing her here — playing a failed but persistent artist devoted to making art about how women’s creativity has been stifled throughout history. Esposito and Butcher, along with their counterparts, know how simultaneously ordinary and revolutionary it is to be authentic to themselves: marrying other women, honing their craft onstage, asking for not just acceptance but praise. They earn that here.