‘Beware of Jews bearing gifts,” joked Susie Essman to contestants on the series premiere of the reality show “Better Half” as she presented them with their next challenge. Essman, who plays the abrasive Susie Greene on HBO’s “Curb Your Enthusiasm,” is the host of the new Bravo show, which pits couples against each other in a competition for $20,000. In each episode, two trained professionals must teach their novice partners their trade in a mere two days, before the newbies are judged by a panel of experts in the field. In the first episode, which aired this week, two New York City chefs introduced their kitchen-shy wives to the art of cooking, and the wives then had to prepare a multi-course meal for 25 diners in a fully staffed restaurant. Essman interacts with the couples and provides snarky commentary throughout the grueling process. Other episodes feature hairdressers, comedians, yoga instructors and event planners.
“What I think is fun is seeing couples who know each other so well do something together that they’ve never done together,” Essman told The Shmooze. “They were all interesting in different ways.”
Most will agree that working with one’s partner — and teaching the person something at which he or she might not exactly excel — is enough to put a strain on any relationship, no matter how healthy it is. And according to Essman, things between one couple got very tense: “After the show they broke up, but not because of the show. They shouldn’t have been together” in the first place. But overall, the majority of the contestants managed to survive the experience.
“Everybody could not believe how much they learned about their partner, about who they are, from learning about what they do,” Essman said.