Tears or Laughter? HBO's Somebody Somewhere Delivers Both

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Tears or Laughter? HBO's <i>Somebody Somewhere</i> Delivers Both

I watched the first episode of Somebody Somewhere alone in my living room while my partner quarantined after suddenly developing COVID symptoms. It had been a long evening, and I needed to just watch some TV as I braced myself for a potentially rough two weeks. I only knew that Somebody Somewhere was an HBO show starring comedian Bridget Everette and nothing about its genre. The pilot made me laugh, but instead of a straightforward comedy, it felt more like drama with strong comedic elements. I was curious about how this show manages to emit such warm, feel-good vibes while its characters navigate grief, alcoholism, midlife crises, and other difficult issues.

The new hit series is about Sam Miller (Everette), a woman in her 40s grappling with her sister’s death and feeling aimless living in her hometown of Manhattan, Kansas. In the pilot, Sam struggles to keep it together at her job as an essay grader and abruptly leaves to go cry outside after reading a child’s paper that reminds her of her sister, Holly, who died six months prior. Sam’s coworker Joel (Jeff Hiller) consoles her, and they both navigate an awkward conversation where he remembers Sam from high school, but it’s clear that she doesn’t have a clue who he is. Out of compassion, Joel offers to tell their boss that Sam got diarrhea and had to leave.

I am familiar with all-encompassing grief, and it makes sense here that Sam is upset. The triggers can be unpredictable, and sometimes managing to get through the work day can feel like a Sisyphean feat. As someone who has stepped away from work to cry more times than I’d like to admit, this scene feels genuine and relatable because this is how friends (or soon-to-be friends) respond when someone they care about is hurting. When you’re sad, they want to make you feel better, even if it involves a claim of gastrointestinal distress. The poop joke is unexpected, but it works in this scene because it’s establishing the connection that will become the series’ emotional hub.

This show isn’t afraid to let its viewers sit with intense emotion, and maybe for just a little too long for a textbook comedy. New BFFs Sam and Joel hit a snag early on in their relationship after Sam criticizes Joel for being unrealistic about his future. Prior to this scene, Sam’s other sister Tricia unleashed a scathing verbal attack on Sam (“What are you doing with your goddamn life?”) and accused her of not knowing when “real life” starts. When Sam finds Joel’s very adorable vision board (featuring pictures of the Eiffel Tower, a big happy family, and a Vitamix), she scoffs and declares that people like her and Joel don’t get to achieve their dreams. While Joel looks at her with intensely sad eyes, Sam gestures to his sensible Kansas single-family home and says, “This is the future. We’re in our 40s, and it hasn’t happened yet, has it?” It’s hard to watch this scene and not ache for Joel, because so many people can relate to the discontentment and hopelessness that Sam is projecting, and there’s no funny button to easily wrap up this confrontation. One could forgive a lesser show for adding a flippant remark or joke here to ease this moment, but Somebody Somewhere doesn’t take that route. After Sam hurts Joel’s feelings for no good reason, she just leaves, despite his pleas for her to stay.

I can’t write about Somebody Somewhere without mentioning music. Early in the season, Joel invites Sam to Choir Practice, a secular group-therapy-meets-glee-club held secretly in a shopping mall church. During Choir Practice Sam realizes there’s more to her town than meets the eye. It’s where she’s peer pressured into singing live, even receiving a standing ovation for her powerhouse rendition of Janis Joplin’s “Piece of My Heart.” Choir Practice is where she begins to find community in a place that probably felt pretty lonely at times. However, these characters are only able to have this periodic celebration of the self under the guise of religious worship. Joel has to lie in order to have these meetings, the stress of which manifests physically as a rash. This periodic booze-fueled gathering is an example of how the show uses music as a disarming tactic, creating a sense of comfort and providing a way for characters to bond. How can you not relax when you walk into a church, expecting to sing hymns, only to find people socializing while drinking party juice, and then the first song of the night is “Conga” by Gloria Estefan?

In the season finale, Sam finally sings original songs, and this is the moment that longtime Everette fans have been waiting for. Up until this point, there has been a lot of talk about Sam’s talent as a songwriter, but she hasn’t sung an original tune yet because it’s too painful and reminds her of Holly. After having some edibles in Choir Practice emcee Fred Rococo’s bomb shelter/man cave during a poker night, Sam is coaxed into singing a raunchy tune, “Put Your Dick Away.” If you’re familiar with Everette’s stand up, then you’ve heard a version of this song before, and it’s hilarious.

Sam’s performance is high energy, funny, and just what the doctor ordered. Then the show changes gears, and we follow the poker crew on Fred’s purple party bus (because of course there’s a party bus) to the Miller family’s barn, and Sam sings a dong-less song written for Joel. Contrasting her previous number, the untitled song is a lovely soft piano ballad about how he helped her find friendship, herself, and “brought [her] home.” It’s a deep, gut wrenching tribute to platonic love. Everette sings beautifully with unquestionable sincerity, an earnestness that prevails throughout the entire season.

When Sam’s finished, Fred is bummed out and immediately wants to resume the party. Joel disagrees and says, “Let’s just stay in the moment for a little bit, Fred.” I want to believe the show is referencing itself here. It’s tempting to simply call the show heartwarming, which is accurate, but it’s not enough to describe the nuances and multitudes Somebody Somewhere contains. It doesn’t cover the lengths that the show goes to in order to provide that warm feeling. The sadness, frustrations, and anger in these characters’ lives should not be overlooked in such a layered and multifaceted series. I pressed play on Somebody Somewhere looking for a temporary escape from reality, but I’m glad I found something deeper instead.

Britt Spruill is a writer and comedian. You can find her shouting into the void on Twitter @britt_spruill.