The moment that best clarifies the intentions of HBO's Somebody Somewhere comes a few episodes into the series, in a scene between Sam (Bridget Everett) and Joel (Jeff Hiller), two old high-school classmates who didn't really know each other but who've connected as adults via circumstances that are both sad and quotidian. After Joel shows her his dream-board collage of the life he's striving for, Sam lashes out at his optimism, telling him that they're in their 40s now, and and if it hasn't happened for them by now, it's never going to happen, certainly not in Manhattan, Kansas. It's a harsh moment that stands apart from what to that point has been a friendship marked by sweetness and a biting but shared humor, and although Sam eventually apologizes, the sentiment lingers in the air as a kind of centralizing theme: how do you go about planning for and building a future for yourself in your 40s, when you're supposed to have already figured your stuff out?
Somebody Somewhere is about more than just that. It's also about being there for family who isn't always there for you; it's about finding a community of your own in the cracks and corners of a town that doesn't always get you; it's about finding the things that make you feel alive and connected and valued. In short, it's a character dramedy full of good feelings and unexpected laughs and great performances. Whether it'll find an audience on HBO is another thing altogether, but we should probably give them a hand for continuing to make these kinds of indie comedies one of their programming priorities. While HBO remains one of the last bastions on non-streaming TV for appointment television — evidenced this year by big discourse-y shows like Succession, Mare of Easttown, and The White Lotus — it has also consistently programmed smaller shows that feel closer to independent film than something more zeitgeisty. The same network that's trying to find its next Game of Thrones is still committed to producing shows like the Kathryn Hahn-starring Mrs. Fletcher, the funny and thoughtful Getting On, and the Duplass production Togetherness.
Brothers Mark and Jay Duplass are producers on Somebody Somewhere as well, with Jay directing the first and final episodes of the season, with Hannah Bos and Paul Thureen (who wrote the 2020 film Driveways) and Patricia Breen (Big Love and Frasier) writing the episodes. But it's hard not to see Bridget Everett herself at the heart of this show, and not just because she too calls Manhattan, Kansas her hometown. Everett has been a New York City alt-cabaret fave for years, pairing a booming voice with a bawdy performance style, she's been an utterly singular live performance experience. She's been on the fringes of a breakout screen success for almost as long, appearing on Inside Amy Schumer and getting film roles in Trainwreck, Fun Mom Dinner, and Patti Cake$. In 2017, she got an Amazon pilot called Love You More that wasn't picked up, although it showed flashes of what Everett brings to fruition in Somebody Somewhere. She's utterly authentic playing Sam's fed-up frustration with her life, but there's a spark inside her, a warmth, a sense of humor, and then there's that voice.
When Sam befriends Joel — who's gay but also religious — he invites her to join him at choir practice, only "choir practice" turns out to be a kind of underground gathering/mixer/performance space for queer and queer-adjacent Mannhattan(Kansas)ites. The show rather beautifully explores the idea of creating a community space of support and joy in the midst of an environment that, even if its not outwardly hostile, remains passively condescending towards anyone on the fringe. Sam's gay sister has recently died, an event that has served to further alienate Sam from her family, particularly her judgmental sister Tricia (Mary Catherine Garrison). But at choir practice, Sam not only finds a welcoming space populated by friendly eccentrics (drag king Murray Hill plays one such cohort and gets some great moments) but also a space to sing and perform, something she hasn't done since her high school show choir days. Everett's natural performance ability is a wonder, bringing Sam, however momentarily, into a version of herself that shines.
Somebody Somewhere is the show that Bridget Everett has long deserved, a showcas of a small-screen precision to complement her on stage grandiosity. It's also a long deserved showcase for Jeff Hiller, a comedic actor who you may recognize from one of many guest appearance here and there (my go-to is his part as a flight attendant on an episode of 30 Rock) or Broadway performances in shows like Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson. He's funny and affecting as Joel, playing a character who feels wholly unique even among the boom of queer characters in recent years: a small-town gay who doesn't dream of getting out and getting away but finds his joy in small moments and connections, while dreaming about having a really nice kitchen some day.
A few scenes after Sam snaps at Joel about his dream board, the two characters share another scene, one that ends with Joel expressing something tremendously simple that also could sum up Somebody Somewhere in its most gracious moments. "We deserve to be happy," he tells her, a simple declaration of a complicated path, beset by frustration and joy and, in this case, sharply crafted and magnetically performed.
Somebody Somewhere premieres on HBO Sunday January 16th at 10:30 PM ET
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Joe Reid is the senior writer at Primetimer and co-host of the This Had Oscar Buzz podcast. His work has appeared in Decider, NPR, HuffPost, The Atlantic, Slate, Polygon, Vanity Fair, Vulture, The A.V. Club and more.
TOPICS: Somebody Somewhere, HBO, Bridget Everett, Jeff Hiller