“The things that pop up about same-sex couples or queer people in the media — television, film, book, everything — are usually moments based on crisis,” Cameron Esposito told Uproxx. “It’s all very high-octane stuff, and I think the small things are never talked about.” Yet Esposito’s point was plain enough to see. Rotten Tomatoes’ first entry for its “Top 100 Gay & Lesbian Movies” list is Milk, which ends with the title character’s assassination. 1999’s Boys Don’t Cry, which made Hilary Swank a household name, concludes with a murder. And as for Orange is the New Black, the show’s intimate, humorous look into the lives of female prisoners is never wholly free of crisis.
Then again, it wouldn’t be entirely fair to say that all films and television programs focusing on the lives of LGBTQ characters are dominated by crisis. As Transparent has proven, there is real, non-violent drama to be had with stories like these. Yet Esposito’s “small things” remain on the sidelines, waiting for brief moments in spotlight that don’t always come. Hence Take My Wife, Esposito and Rhea Butcher’s new limited series premiering August 11 exclusively on Seeso. The two comedians, Put Your Hands Together podcast co-hosts, and spouses decided to take their critique to heart and, instead of moving onto the next subject, offer a creative solution.
The result? Six 20- to 25-minute episodes dramatizing Butcher and Esposito’s fictionalized lives in a manner that’s largely devoid of intense drama. Make no mistake — Take My Wife‘s lack of intensity is precisely the point, and the show steers clear of it without issue. And it works really well. Though like its obvious predecessor Louie, the show keeps each entry as tight as possible while splicing together various segments with stand-up sets by Rhea, Cameron and a seemingly endless array of guest stars.
Consider the conclusion of the pilot. It begins with Cameron carrying Rhea over the proverbial threshold on their wedding day, then immediately flashes back a year to their pre-engagement relationship. One of the episode’s (and the series’) most prominent plot points concerns Cameron’s rising fame as a stand-up comic butting heads with Rhea’s desire to quit her job and get a chance behind the microphone. All of this happens and, despite her incessant worries to the contrary, Rhea kills her first set and her shared stage time with Cameron.
This leads to a rather intimate moment between the two in the theater, sitting in the stands and staring at the empty stage. Excited by everything that’s happened, Cameron proposes she and Rhea co-host the weekly comedy show, and proposes to her. A shocked Rhea balks at the thought of marriage, but agrees to join her girlfriend on stage for the foreseeable future. Especially when Cameron romantically quips, “You better hurry up because my co-hosting offer’s only on the table forever.” Rhea’s response? “Welcome to the rest of our lives.”
It’s a cute, if sappy, moment, but the writing and Esposito and Butcher’s delivery render the exchange believable. A real beginning for a romance without — to borrow Esposito’s term once again — any signs of crisis. The same goes for the opening scene of the subsequent episode, “Punchline,” in which Rhea and Cameron speculate about having their own television show while in bed together. It’s suggested they just had sex, which leads to a discussion about whether or not their show would include scenes of sexual intimacy. It all makes for a conversation and a sequence of cuts that Louie would be proud of.
Then again, Take My Wife‘s focus on the “small things” doesn’t always outshine the possibility of (and need for) drama. It is, after all, a comedy-drama in the same vein as Louie, Curb Your Enthusiasm, The Larry Sanders Show and other original and repeat comedy programs obsessed just as much with the form as with story and character. So while the meta-commentary about representations of lesbians and other LGTBQ characters in media is a familiar conceit, it’s not the be-all and end-all of Take My Wife.
The show is, more than anything, a narrative about the complexities of building and maintaining a committed relationship with another person. Specifically, Rhea and Cameron’s attempts to navigate their respective careers, desires and temptations while coming to terms with the fact that one or both of them might want to get married. Yet the everyday aspects of these little dramas means Take My Wife can appeal to anyone who’s watching.
Take My Wife premieres August 11 exclusively on Seeso. Until then, here’s a preview…