“Somebody Somewhere” is such a heartfelt pleasure, led by Bridget Everett and Jeff Hiller’s amazing accomplishments.
Life is made up of sweet and sour, so it only makes sense that several series have tried to squeeze humor out of bitter moments. While Hannah Bos and Paul Thureen’s HBO series “Somebody Somewhere” has a tragedy in the plot, the half-hour pseudo-comedy is less about dealing with losses than dealing with existence in general.
Sam (Bridget Everett) had a hard time. Her sister and closest friend Holly just died of cancer, which left Sam emotionally and professionally in the lurch, cut off from the world and barely able to move from her bed / couch. While working at a student testing center, she meets Joel (Jeff Hiller). She and Joel actually knew each other from high school, but Sam has no memory of him. The two begin to forge an unusual bond with music that is slowly making Sam’s hometown of Kansas bearable.
Somebody Somewhere is about belonging and how often the places we end up are forced to feel at home by default. While Dorothy Gale may not have bothered to leave Kansas after “The Wizard of Oz,” Sam can’t help but rant. As she does this, one question becomes more and more urgent: is it really the place that is a trap or Sam’s own feelings? In Everett’s hands, Sam is someone you either know or know. She forgets to put on pants before yelling at her neighbors; She gets stressed out when she is invited to brunch because it turns out to be a group activity. Holly’s death gives Sam a reason to be alone, but that’s not why she is alone.
If you’ve followed the comedy world or seen their underrated performance in 2017’s Patti Cakes, you know the power Everett brings to the table. It would be easy for the audience to see Sam as someone who is just plain lazy, and that is nowhere near the case. She is unmotivated. She is unhappy. And the series skillfully shows Sam’s growth in a way that always feels organic.
Everett is why Sam is so wonderful to be with. She’s funny, she cares about people, and she can pop a Janis Joplin song like it’s nobody’s business. But Sam is not free from the snares and arrows from people who do not know how badly they have hurt them. Case in point: Sam’s sister Tricia (Mary Catherine Garrison), who routinely brings up Sam’s perceived laziness, problems with her weight, and aversion to Holly’s homosexuality.
Sam’s salvation is to be found in Joel, a good-natured gay man confused about where his beliefs fit into his personal life. Joel invites Sam to what he calls “choral practice,” a place for outcasts and friends to meet at a Joel church where volunteers work. This invitation is the catalyst that each of them finds what he needs in the other. Everett continues to show why she’s a star in the making, but don’t underestimate Hiller, who is just as awesome as Joel.
Hiller’s facial expressions can make you laugh, but the real genius of his performance, like Everett, lies in his humanity and authenticity. Whether you’re helping Sam follow Tricia’s husband or surviving a tornado while chasing a dog, Joel will make you laugh and feel alike. Speaking of which, it’s early morning but I don’t know if anything compares to episode 5 of this series. Everyone is on point and it’s so hilarious I’ve seen it twice already.
Everett and Hiller are the dominant forces on “Somebody Somewhere,” but the supporting cast are compelling. Garrison, Mike Hagerty and Jane Brody as Sam’s family cause a lot of tingling in their dysfunctional dynamic. Hagerty and Brody, as Sam’s parents Ed and Mary-Jo, are especially fascinating as they are broken people who hide the pain in different ways; Ed stuffs everything up while Mary-Jo drinks so much that she runs over her husband with her foot and almost sets her niece on fire. The loss of Holly spreads through the entire family, and while the series never brings it up chronically, her demise is at the center of every look, every little thing, every story.
“Somebody Somewhere” is a difficult show to describe, not in terms of the plot, but the feel. The small-town environment is not based on stereotypes, but is really reminiscent of numerous cities that border large cities. (I’m pretty sure every suburb has a knick-knack place like Tricias Tender Moments.) Situations are just high enough to belong on a TV show, but underneath there are moments with cute connections, like Sam, who Joels a . learns to “birder” because he carries binoculars in his car. If you’ve been driving around with your best friend on a Sunday to have something to do and what you did was boring but you’re both connected, Somebody Somewhere captures the uniqueness of the experience.
“Somebody Somewhere” premieres on Sunday, January 16 at 10:30 pm ET on HBO. New episodes are published weekly.