“Somebody Somewhere” gives me a phenomenal sense of calm. The series itself isn’t necessarily calm. Its small-town Kansas characters are frenetic, unmoored, and often judgmental. The show’s sensibility takes all this in with empathy, searching for the vulnerable moment underneath every joke or instance of lashing out. It’s beautifully human, and it features some beautiful humans.
Bridget Everett stars as Sam, who returned to the town of Manhattan, Kansas in order to take care of her sister Holly. We enter a year after Holly’s death. Sam is still stuck in town, sleeping on the couch, unwilling to use her late sister’s bed. She’s just getting by: emotionally, career-wise, day-to-day.
Sam’s own sister Tricia judges her. Their mother deals with alcoholism. Their father is falling behind in managing his farm. It’s not until Sam breaks down at work that a former classmate approaches her. This is Joel, and their friendship unlocks the series.
They spend time together and make each other feel seen. Joel is gay and out, so it’s not a romantic dynamic. It’s a gorgeous portrayal of friendship helping two characters who are treading water feel legitimized enough to start making small changes.
Joel runs a furtive open mic/song night at a local church. He wants Sam to come by because she used to be a singer. This is the community that Sam has so badly needed.
Everett is exceptional as Sam. She feels utterly real, less a character and more a person dealing with her own life. There’s a sense of her emotional turmoil being so mundane to her as to be utterly recognizable. It’s accessible to us in a way that doesn’t have to be acted, just understood.
Jeff Hiller’s Joel is a revelation because his is the kind of character who’s so easily written off as a joke or comic relief. He’s funny here – not as a punchline, but as someone who’s genuinely kind and caring.
Both Everett and Hiller are so generous to each other as performers that you want to laugh along with them. The writing is funny and the performances are comic, but you could say that for a lot of series. That you’re invited to feel in-the-moment with them, and that their generosity extends to the audience, creates an expression of comfort and safety. That allows the comedy to get to something deeper, something very human that we all share. “Somebody Somewhere” doesn’t just make us laugh, it recognizes our need to laugh. It brings that very vulnerable part of both its characters and audience to the surface.
Patience and timing allow the understated, realistic interactions to thrive. There aren’t too many ridiculous or unexpected things happening to drive the comedy. Instead, we see Sam and Joel during brief work breaks, on a lazy weekend morning, talking in the driveway or a store. The plot does escalate – for instance, Sam is deeply suspicious of Tricia’s husband Rick. These escalations aren’t the destination, though. They change our characters’ outlooks and relationships, but they feel more like stops on the highway as they keep going.
Mary Catherine Garrison, Mike Hagerty, and Jane Brody play Tricia, and Sam’s father and mother, respectively. They’re more than the simple stereotypes each could have delivered. I’m hard-pressed to find a character – even the occasional asinine one – who doesn’t come off as human in some way.
Another beautiful performance is delivered by Murray Hill as Fred Rococo, the open mic’s master of ceremonies and a local professor of soil science. Sam becomes close with him and looks to him as someone who’s a little wiser than she is. He never treats her with condescension, but rather with encouragement to figure out her own path, and with an understanding that at the end of the day, they can always sing together or drive his party bus around town to pick up their friends.
“Somebody Somewhere” shows how one person thinking “you’re a big fucking deal” can push you to treat yourself better. It shows that drawing strength from that can allow you to stand up to the people and structures in your life that minimize you. For Sam, that confidence comes from an introduction to friends who think that about each other. It gives her strength to lend that attitude to her family. It introduces her to community, and how community is constructed.
Every character in “Somebody Somewhere” helps another get back up again even while struggling to do this for themselves. This fosters kindness and inclusiveness (the cast has some good LGBTQ+ representation). It creates resilience, not by pretending weakness doesn’t exist, but rather by recognizing when someone needs help and offering kindness, interest, communication, and support.
That the show itself feels like it offers some of those things – I might have once called that rare, but it seems more are recognizing these needs. “Somebody Somewhere” joins “Our Flag Means Death”, “Komi Can’t Communicate”, and “Abbott Elementary” as new series in the last few months that all investigate the persistence of kindness and the construction of community. Where once acidic humor and conflict defined our comedies, it seems like we are getting at least a few that dump this in favor of finding empathetic humor through understanding others and the satisfaction of seeing them accepted.
You can watch “Somebody Somewhere” on HBO Max. It is renewed for a second season.
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