“Take My Wife” Is Unprecedented TV In Which Lesbians Laugh, Don’t Die

It’s taken me a long time to write about Take My Wife because I didn’t believe it was actually a thing. Like okay sure, there’s a TV show about a funny masculine-of-center lesbian couple, with episodes of traditional length, distributed by a legit channel with wide-audience-potential, exuding professional-level production value, filmed on a set that doesn’t look like a display copy of a condo, and I could potentially watch this show without having to pay-per-episode on iTunes or shell out $15.99/month for a lesbian content streaming start-up that will implode before Thanksgiving because we can’t have nice things? ABSOLUTELY NOT, THAT’S NOT REAL. Besides, even if it did meet aforementioned criteria, I figured, it couldn’t truly be focused on aforementioned lesbian couple. We’ll certainly be forced to endure excruciatingly tangential storylines from their forgettable male co-worker or straight female best friend whose running gag is asking extremely personal questions about lesbian sex. Et cetera.

Well, ladies, gentlewomen, and otherwise-identified human beings: it’s real! I was wrong to assume that we could not have this particular nice thing. In fact we can, and it’s really fucking good, and it comes from real-life lesbian wives Rhea Butcher and Cameron Esposito, and NBC made it, and you can watch it on SeeSo, an online comedy network you can subscribe to for $3.99 a month via Amazon Prime. (You can start out with a free one-month trial, though.) (And then you can watch old Kids in the Hall episodes forever and ever.)

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The only Lesbian TV Series production shortfall Take My Wife fits into is The Short Season — it’s only six episodes long. In lieu of watching the twelve episodes of Take My Wife I wish existed, I watched the existing six episodes three times. Then I tumblr-searched for gif sets and was promptly greeted by a variety of explicit pornography on the topic of men who want other men to sleep with their wives, so don’t do that. Unless that’s what you’re into, in which case, this is the Tumblr search for you, go wild.

The set-up is that Cameron is a successful and experienced comic in Los Angeles and Rhea’s an aspiring comic who practices her jokes in between aggressive calls from her boss back in her hometown of Akron, Ohio, for whom she still does graphic design work. The story is basically “Cameron and Rhea’s life when they first moved to Los Angeles, but moreso.” During their freshly co-hosted comedy night, Cameron gently bullies Rhea into quitting her job to pursue comedy full-time, and the two then progress on their different but aligned career and life goals together while making a lot of jokes that you’ll find relevant to your interests. Lesbian Dad jokes, lesbian sex jokes, women-in-comedy jokes, feminist-boob-oogling jokes, all of that. The show is entirely about Rhea and Cameron but there are a handful of engaging tertiary characters, most of whom are women or men of color (there are only two white men with recurring roles and both of those characters are terrible people).

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In fact, simply being a comedy makes this show brand new and important. The list of half-hour comedies with lesbian lead characters played by actual lesbians is a short one, because there’s only one show on that list and it was called Ellen. But even straight women playing comedic lesbian leads are rarities — the pregnant girl on the short-lived 2015 sitcom One Big Happyfor example, or Amy on the three-season MTV comedy Faking It, which was cancelled this year. Historically, gay men have been considered the funnier edition of homo, delighting audiences since Soap in the ’70s, ushering in a new era of alleged acceptance with Will & Grace in the ’90s, and now, with Modern Family, delivering Cameron & Mitchell, two ordinary gay men who are married despite clearly hating each other, directly into the homo-loving hearts of the American people and Emmy voters on a regular basis. Although Wikipedia’s “list of situation comedies with LGBT characters” is undoubtedly incomplete, a quick count reveals 140 gay or bisexual male characters on American comedies and only 38 females. In fact, since Ellen, no broadcast network TV sitcom with a lesbian character in the main cast has lasted more than a single season; most didn’t even make it that far! That’s fucking nuts, y’all.

ESPECIALLY ’cause it’s lesbian comedians who’ve been at the forefront of queer female visibility efforts for the past two decades, like Lily Tomlin, Ellen DeGeneres, Rosie O’Donnell, Wanda Sykes and Sandra Bernhard (who did play a groundbreaking gay character on Roseanne). We’re so overdue for our own show, and now we fucking have it. THANK YOU SEESO.

Our stories tend to be tragic ones, but a genre shift isn’t the only way the show defies tropes. In interviews and on the show itself (meta!), Cameron and Rhea are determined to womanslaughter every lesbian TV trope they personally hate, like how they don’t want to die. Or have a coming out scene, or sleep with a man, or get pregnant in Season One. “I just want us to live,” Cameron tells Rhea in an early bedroom scene, capping off a monologue about all the ways lesbians meet premature and unsentimental ends on television, and why she thinks having sex on camera will stave off that impending tragedy.

“So many lesbian characters, their storylines are very sad, overwrought, and often tragic, involving death—and also pining,” Cameron told Fast Company. “It was important to us that this not be a show about pining.”

Instead of pining we have the everyday dysfunction inherent in living and loving and working with the same human being. Married straight couples have been sitcom bread-and-butter since the olden days, yannow?

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Ultimately observing their (albeit fictionalized) relationship dynamics was what captivated me in a way I wasn’t prepared for, like in a voyeristic way. Like they seemed real, and I didn’t realize how much I’d craved that kind of story until I got hooked on Take My Wife. We never see this, right? Like this is not a thing we see. It felt realer than The “Real” L Word, even, which was sort of about gay people but aggressively edited by people who I’m pretty sure want to kill us.

There’s just so much LORE on the topic of heterosexual relationships. By the time I entered into my first boy-girl situation, I’d witnessed at least one million het couples onscreen and in books and read ten thousand football fields worth of magazine articles on the topic. I went into my first lesbian relationship knowing that Shane broke hearts and Gia died of AIDS. In some ways going into these things blindly is arguably a better way to live, but I still crave specific-to-me materials from the universe. It’s cool to see other people with relationships that kinda look like yours telling stories based on their actual lives.

Take My Wife also deftly interrogates the performative element that injects itself into all long-term relationships; how we navigate our partnership alone and how we do it when we’re being watched. For Cameron and Rhea, they’re frequently “being watched” by largely anonymous audiences as well as their own comic heroes. Many of their most important discussions and decisions are made in the presence of others, raising questions about whether who we allow ourselves to be privately is necessarily more authentic or productive than who we are when our behavior is observed and potentially judged by others. When does committing to “putting on a good face” erase problems that need attention, and when does it simply relegate those problems to their proper size?

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Cameron and Rhea told Vulture that they hoped the show would make viewers think thoughts including “wow, this feels honest and this feels specific and this feels like it’s about women” and that those thoughts did not mean the show would only be entertaining to women. The pair have managed to deftly walk the line between “this show isn’t just for gay people” and “this show is very much about gay people” in interviews.

Butcher told Vulture, “It’s never going to be for everyone, and it’s not going to be a perfect [queer] representation, but it feels real to me” and Cameron added, “My thought on that has always been, number one, we’re relatable because we’re real people talking about our lives, and when people are truly honest, that has to be relatable. Because there are only a certain number of human experiences: There’s love, death, jobs, food. That’s kind of it. And then the second part of it is like, Fuck you. All lesbians are relatable.” Their gayness is never toned down — I mean, for starters, they look so gay that there’s really no way around it — but it hasn’t gotten in the way of appealing to a wider audience. The show has been lauded by queers like Tegan & Sara and Slate’s OutWard, but also by The New York Times, The Decider, The Daily Dot, Vanity Fair and Flavorwire, among many other outlets. In their review, Esquire stated that Take My Wife “captured human emotion better than any other show on TV.”  SEE, LESBIANS *ARE* RELATABLE.

Cameron & Rhea doing an interview with AOL

Cameron & Rhea doing an interview with the AOL Build Speakers Series

Cameron Esposito’s success and experience relative to Rhea’s green-ness is a major theme of the show — negotiating both their desires for the other to succeed and the inevitable competition arising between them, as well as Rhea’s self-consciousness about being seen as Cameron’s wife instead of as her very own comedic self. Cameron is absolutely the better known of the two and has been working for longer — Jay Leno called her “the future of comedy,” she’s been on Conan and Chelsea Lately, played Becky-from-Roseanne’s girlfriend in Mother’s Day and done guest spots on Drunk History and Adventure TimeCameron’s album Same-Sex Symbol made a splash last year as did her awesome stand-up special, Marriage Material. (Despite this relative success, Cameron still has to contend with “women in comedy” bullshit and “lesbian in comedy” bullshit but manages to handle it with dignity and wit.)

But with Rhea’s new comedy album debuting at #1 on the iTunes charts last week and this show getting so much buzz, it seemed like this moment would be a fitting one to also celebrate Rising Star Rhea Butcher, if I may? YOU’RE WELCOME.

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fan collage expertly made by me, obvs


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Riese is the 35-year-old CEO, CFO and Editor-in-Chief of Autostraddle.com as well as an award-winning writer, blogger, fictionist, copywriter, video-maker and aspiring cyber-performance artist who grew up in Michigan, lost her mind in New York City and mellowed out in California before returning to Michigan for reasons that are unclear to her now — she is currently plotting her return to the West. Her work has appeared in nine books including "The Bigger the Better The Tighter The Sweater: 21 Funny Women on Beauty, Body Image & Other Hazards Of Being Female," magazines including Marie Claire and Curve, and all over the web including Nylon, Queerty, Nerve, Bitch, Emily Books and Jezebel. She had a very popular personal blog once upon a time, and then she recapped The L Word, and then she had the idea to make this place, and now here we all are! In 2016, she was nominated for a GLAAD Award for Outstanding Digital Journalism. Follow her on twitter and instagram.

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35 Comments

  1. 0

    After this terrible, TERRIBLE year of drama and death, THIS IS EXACTLY WHAT I NEEDED THANK YOU. I had been seriously worried about what I was gonna watch next after I finish Parks & Rec (only one season to go!) and this is definitely gonna be next on the list!

    • 0

      Oh my word YES. I was just talking to someone (*cough my therapist) about how I’d love to have the companionship and mutual support involved in the strongest partnerships I’m familiar with. And after three episodes and your comment I realize I can point at Cameron and Rhea on the show and IRL and say “THAT. I want my version of THAT.”

  2. 0

    I’ve been waiting for an Autostraddle article on this, so glad to hear I’m not alone in feeling floored by this show. It was good, and it was funny, but mostly it just blew my mind that the world would produce for me a good show about people like me and my wife.

    “Ultimately observing their (albeit fictionalized) relationship dynamics was what captivated me in a way I wasn’t prepared for, like in a voyeristic way. Like they seemed real, and I didn’t realize how much I’d craved that kind of story until I got hooked on Take My Wife. We never see this, right?”

    Right. I watched The Intervention last night and that felt similarly refreshing. It’s not even necessarily people having relationship issues I’ve ever had, it’s just seeing two women I relate to work through relationship issues at all that feels like something there’s an enormous deficit of in the media I’ve consumed my whole life.

  3. 0

    I just watched the first episode, which is available on seeso’s youtube channel, during my lunch break and am now counting the hours until I can go home and watch more. The real question is, do I binge watch it all at once or watch one at a time to prolong the viewing experience?

  4. 0

    I have been waiting for the autostraddle review of this because as soon as I saw the first five minutes I was hooked!!! It’s just so unbelievably good and real. Also I didn’t know who Rhea was before but now I love her!! and everyone should listen to her new album it’s perfect.

  5. 0

    If you can’t get enough of the dynamic duo, check out their podcast “Put your hands together”– I’ve been listening for over a year and it’s a great spot for listening to up and coming comics and a ton of RB/CE. God bless CE, but she does get a little soapbox-y sometimes– always funny, but if that’s not your cup o’ tea, consider yourself warned.

    • 0

      I’ve been binging episodes of that podcast ever since I finished my third watch of the season I LOVE IT also real talk i just listen to the opening banter and then i go listen to more opening banter

  6. 0

    There was a pre-screening of this show in Chicago and an hour before the event I asked a girl to go to it with me.

    As far as first dates go I don’t usually like “lets watch a thing” situations, but this was a fantastic, impulsive AND QUEER adventure!

    And like… it worked or something because recently she bought me flowers and I surprised her with donuts. Which is chill.

  7. 0

    I had never thought so specifically about coupledom in sitcoms, and the normalization therein and the lack of it when it comes to queers, and so WOW ugh and yes. I laugh/cried through episode one and am trying not to binge watch the rest because there are SO FEW.

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