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Jeff Hiller and Bridget Everett Maintain Their Magic in Somebody Somewhere Season 2

The show’s a mess, but these two are undeniable.
  • Jeff Hiller and Bridget Everett in Somebody Somewhere (Photo: Sandy Morris/HBO)
    Jeff Hiller and Bridget Everett in Somebody Somewhere (Photo: Sandy Morris/HBO)

    The second season of Somebody Somewhere is both an absolute delight and an absolute mess. On a basic storytelling level, the HBO comedy has stopped making sense, with an almost aggressive disregard for internal consistency. That’s frustrating because the first season was so well-constructed, guiding an aimless woman named Sam Miller (Bridget Everett) toward an emotional breakthrough that was both beautiful and earned. But as shapeless as they are, the new episodes are also a joy to watch, because they’re mostly about Sam’s relationship with her best friend Joel (Jeff Hiller). The characters have one of the funniest, most generous friendships on TV, while Everett and Hiller’s chemistry makes them seem like actual soulmates. This duo could jazz up a trip to the morgue, and they certainly make it easy to watch seven half-hours of half-baked television.

    Narratively, series creators Hannah Bos and Paul Thureen contend with several enormous challenges. The biggest is the death of actor Mike Hagerty, who played Sam’s father Ed, a lifelong farmer in their small Kansas town and one of the few people who could make his daughter feel safe. Rather than address his death on camera, the show sends Ed on a long trip to see his brother, while Sam and her sister Tricia (Mary Catherine Garrison) look after his land. It’s a good choice, since Sam’s whole arc is accepting the death of her sister Holly. As written, she might not be able to handle the loss of her father, and at any rate, that story could swallow the entire season.

    Hagerty’s death is an unavoidable fact, of course. It’s less clear why Bos and Thureen choose to give themselves so many other roadblocks. Last season, for instance, was built around Sam and Joel’s participation in Choir Practice, a cabaret that welcomed the town’s outcasts to sing, drink, and experience fellowship. In the finale, after Joel left the church where he’d been secretly hosting Choir Practice gatherings, his friends helped him through his crisis of faith by suggesting the cabaret could live on in Ed’s barn. That not only unlocked something in Sam, but also cleared a path for the future Joel’s religious devotion.

    Now Choir Practice is just gone, reduced to a single passing mention. Joel’s faith is gone, too. He occasionally references his struggle to find a new church, but otherwise, that aspect of his character has been excised. Similarly, Tricia’s ex-husband Rick and her former business partner Charity don’t appear in this go-round, despite the fact that their affair blew up Tricia’s life. Tricia’s teenage daughter (Annie Munch) is only given a single scene before she goes to college, while Sam and Tricia’s mother (Jane Drake Brody) is shunted off to a psychiatric ward in Episode 3 and never discussed again.

    Unable to replace these concepts and characters with anything substantive, the episodes flit from one unfinished idea to another. There’s vague conversation about the farm being in trouble, but that’s apparently resolved by the end of the season, when the sisters host a major event there. At one point, Tricia mentions that Sam has a job, but it’s never clear what it is. Late in the season, a character’s death is awkwardly shoved into the last five minutes of an episode, mostly so Joel and Sam can tearily bond at the funeral. Even a major arc about Sam and Joel’s friend Fred (Murray Hill) loses impact because another key player in the story barely appears.

    Meanwhile, Sam retraces her steps. Once a promising singer, she spent the first season using Choir Practice to rediscover her voice. This time, having apparently forgotten all the progress she made, she reconnects with her high school voice teacher to have the same breakthroughs all over again. This here-we-go-again repetition not only diminishes the previous season, but also contradicts the carefully crafted work Bos and Thureen spent years creating for the theater. It’s curious that these typically meticulous and thoughtful artists have gotten stuck in this rut

    That said, every episode has at least one scene that works as a standalone vignette. When Joel and friend visit a historic Kansas home, their nerdy enthusiasm is a hoot. When Tricia makes a naughty throw pillow to vent some rage about her husband’s affair, a photo she posts goes viral, and her mixture of horror and delight lets Garrison flex her comic chops.

    And of course, when Sam and Joel do anything together, from cleaning up after a messy dog to arguing about the future of their friendship, the show transcends its limitations. As co-stars, Everett and Hiller have such incredible ease that their scenes feel more like spontaneous chats than scripted conversations. They’ve got a looseness that suggests they know their characters as deeply as they might know real people, and watching them play off one another is almost nourishing. While the show itself is in desperate need of structure, it’s lucky it has co-stars with such relaxed, free-ranging energy.

    Season 2 of Somebody Somewhere premieres Sunday, April 23 at 10:30 PM ET on HBO. Join the discussion about the show in our forums.

    Mark Blankenship has been writing about arts and culture for twenty years, with bylines in The New York Times, Variety, Vulture, Fortune, and many others. You can hear him on the pop music podcast Mark and Sarah Talk About Songs.

    TOPICS: Somebody Somewhere, HBO, Bridget Everett, Hannah Bos, Jeff Hiller, Mike Hagerty, Paul Thureen