“What are you doing with your goddamn life?” Sam’s sister Tricia asks her in the first episode of the new HBO dramedy Somebody Somewhere. In the moment, Sam (Bridget Everett) acts offended by the question, but it’s one she privately asks herself all the time. She is in her forties, has never had any real direction, and only returned to her Kansas hometown to care for her other sister Holly as she died from cancer, then stayed for lack of a better plan. She befriends former high-school classmate, Joel (Jeff Hiller), and confesses she never amounted to much “because I didn’t think I was any good.” When Joel asks what she’s referring to, she replies, “Everything.”
Somebody Somewhere was created by Hannah Bos and Paul Thureen and produced by Jay and Mark Duplass. The Duplass brothers’ previous HBO series, the terrific but short-lived Togetherness, also dealt with middle-aged disappointment, and shares a knock-around, lo-fi charm with its successor. (And, for that matter, with many of the best episodes of High Maintenance, where Bos and Thureen previously wrote.) Very little happens over the course of the seven-episode season, but this is the point.
We see Sam struggle to find common ground with Tricia (Mary Catherine Garrison), and wage half-baked stakeouts of Tricia’s potentially adulterous husband Rick (Danny McCarthy). She hits it off with Joel, but perhaps at the expense of his relationship with his partner Michael (Jon Hudson Odom), and she resents the academic standardized test company where they both work. Even Sam and Tricia’s attempt to get their father Ed (Mike Hagerty) to recognize that their alcoholic mother Mary Jo (Jane Brody) needs to go to rehab again is presented in muted fashion — the siblings know this likely won’t accomplish anything, but they want to try something. It makes the show an amusing stylistic counterpoint to the overcaffeinated, beautiful, teen-focused Euphoria, which is one of this series’ Sunday night lead-ins. But the smallness of the stories helps capture the aimlessness Sam feels — noting that she and Joel are already in their forties, she suggests of their dreams, “It’s not going to happen, and it’s definitely not going to happen here” — while making the little victories and minor defeats ring out much more loudly than if Sam’s life were a nonstop thrill ride.
Everett’s a comedian who appeared regularly on Inside Amy Schumer, where she got to close each season by belting out raunchy cabaret songs with titles like “Put Your Dick Away.” The singing continues here — the first episode climaxes with Sam and Joel’s touching duet of Peter Gabriel and Kate Bush’s “Don’t Give Up” at an underground cabaret he hosts for the local queer community — but Jeff Hiller and his unnervingly varied range of smiles do most of the comic heavy lifting(*) in what’s otherwise a dryly amusing series. (Comedian Murray Hill also scores some laughs in a recurring role as Fred Rococo, who by night is the cabaret’s emcee, and by day teaches at the local agricultural college.) Everett, by contrast, plays things seriously — and well. She’s an intensely watchable presence while we see Sam trudge through this broken, seemingly inconsequential existence she has no clue how to fix.
(*) Hiller is also wonderful in the dramatic parts of the show, finding nuance and deep reserves of sadness and hope in a character who could so easily be a caricature. This isn’t his show, but at times it feels like it could be.
Somebody Somewhere is a modest TV series, and one likely to find a modest audience. But that audience will come away feeling like they very much understand these characters, and this place, because the details and performances are so well drawn. Sam may be down on herself, but the show about her turns out to be good at a lot of things.
Somebody Somewhere premieres Jan. 16 on HBO, with episodes releasing weekly. I’ve seen all seven episodes.