Bridget Everett shines as a woman reinventing herself in the humdrum rhythms of small-town life.
It seems like every TV show is set in Manhattan. Be it Friends, Sex & the City, or Seinfeld, Manhattan is the de facto environs for our favorite television. Somebody Somewhere, HBO’s latest series from Hannah Bos (High Maintenance) and Paul Thureen, keeps the Manhattan setting, but swaps out the Hudson and East Rivers for the Kansas and Big Blue Rivers. And just like the Little Apple seems like an inverse of the Big, this new show is a slice of lives drastically different from the hip and connected characters of Girls or And Just Like That….
Sam Miller (Bridget Everett) lives an untethered life in her hometown of Manhattan, Kansas, where she returned after her sister Holly’s untimely death. Sam flits between her dead-end job grading college admission essays and her family, from whom she feels alienated. Her parents, Ed (Mike Hagerty) and Mary Jo (Jane Brody), are farmers who can’t seem to open up. Her sister, Tricia (Mary Catherine Garrison), is a holier than thou boutique owner, who judges Sam’s lack of ambition and the late Holly’s homosexuality.
But Sam’s humdrum existence is disrupted when she reconnects with Joel (Jeff Hiller), a coworker who was also in show choir with her in the late ’80s. Joel introduces Sam to an event called “Choir Practice,” an LGBTQ+ gathering held in a church located in a dying mall and led by the charming Fred Rococo (Murray Hill). As their friendship grows, Sam begins to open up and enjoy life again, and starts to heal the trauma from her family.
Somebody Somewhere’s brilliance lies in the way it weaves between the hilarity and drama of the mundane. The first season’s storylines are centered on the everyday struggles of a small town: family drama, substance abuse, and feeling stuck in the middle of nowhere. Both Everett and Hiller give their characters a naturalistic warmth and mirth; the show finds humor in office lunchrooms, driving around town, idle moments in a bar. Hiller’s Joel is neurotically, infectiously optimistic, and Everett is great all around, with perfect comedic wit, dramatic flair, and an amazing singing voice.
The naturalistic nature of Somebody Somewhere‘s comedy allows for the show to take more serious turns, and while its dramatic beats are all still grounded in the personal, you are still enticed to watch the next episode thanks to Bos, Thureen, and Patricia Breen’s excellent writing. You care because the characters are so easy to care about.
In probably the best example, Tricia comes across as patently unlikeable in the first two episodes, but as the season progresses, you understand where she’s coming from, even if you disagree with her views.
Honestly, the show’s biggest flaw comes from the feeling that there are storylines and plot points that were outright cut from the show, which leaves the overarching narrative feeling a tad jumbled. For example, an act of vandalism on Tricia’s store is the final shot of one episode, implying it’s a momentous act; however, it’s only mentioned once in the next episode.
But those are minor complaints. Somebody Somewhere is one of the best pieces of television I’ve seen in a long time. Full of humor, warmth, and wit, this feels like the antithesis of – and antidote to – scripted series that are more unmoored from the real world. It’s not escapist fantasy, nor is it nihilistic; it’s a sensitive, nuanced take on the hope we can find in the simple things.
Somebody Somewhere premieres January 16th on HBO.