10 things we love about Somebody Somewhere

By Gen Terblanche11 July 2023

10 things we love about Somebody Somewhere

Actress, comedian and singer Bridget Everett breathes life into HBO semi-autobiographical midlife crisis drama-comedy Somebody Somewhere (Seasons 1 and 2 are now streaming on Showmax). Sam (Everett) is 40-something and lost after returning to her small-town Kansas home to help take care of her dying sister, Holly. When we meet Sam, she’s grieving Holly’s death, stuck in a place where too many people are aggressively outspoken bigots – especially her holier than thou sister, Tricia (Mary Catherine Garrison). She has had to take a dead-end office job, she has no friends, she’s broke, her mom Mary Jo (Jane Drake Brody) is sinking into alcoholism and her struggling farmer dad Ed (Mike Hagerty) has given up on trying to stop her.  

Luckily for Sam, life opens up when she makes an unlikely new friend. Her co-worker Joel (Jeff Hiller) has a secret. He’s launched a church choir practice night as a front for a secret social club. It’s a place where the town’s misfits can laugh, socialise, dance, and be themselves without fear. When Joel insists that Sam join in, he gives her back a piece of the joy that she’s lost in her life.  

Somebody Somewhere is on Showmax
Bridget Everett as Sam

Somebody Somewhere doesn’t have the pull of rich people doing nasty things while wearing posh clothes and saying outrageous things. It doesn’t have a murder of the week, or a shocking true-crime case to follow. There are no dragons, no teenaged sex, drugs or nudity. As a result, while it has been a critical darling, it has struggled to make friends of its own. That’s a shame, because it’s a delightful slice of life that’ll lift you up when things are tough. And since Sam and Joel deserve so much more applause, here are 10 things we love about Somebody Somewhere. 

Watch the trailer for Somebody Somewhere

1. Getting back up 

Sam starts the series in a hard place. She uprooted her life to take care of a favourite family member, who then died. She’s forced back into the company of her small-minded sister Tricia and Tricia’s checked-out husband Rick (Danny McCarthy), along with her judgemental alcoholic mother. She has no real friends in town. On top of that, she has taken a dead-end office job filled with a lot of people who seem happy to run their mouths and flaunt their prejudices. Sam feels stuck, but even from the first episode, as she looks at the people around her, it’s clear that she’s actively looking to change her life and make connections. It’s a relatable journey that could inspire you to start making changes yourself.  

2. The real feel 

Everything is messy and lived in. Houses are full of knick-knacks and clutter and there are cardboard boxes piled up haphazardly in the basement. People’s clothes are loose fitting, faded, baggy and worn – the kind of shirts and jerseys that you’d reject if you were thrifting, even though you’re wearing your own versions of them around the house. It’s set in a small town, but it’s the dusty, worn kind of town with a dying mall, wide-lane roads to nowhere. No white gazebos, picket fences or cute fall festivals. All of this anchors the show in reality so when there’s an uplifting on-screen moment, it feels as if it could be real for you, too.  

Somebody Somewhere is on Showmax
Jeff Hiller as Joel and Bridget Everett as Sam

3. Big and small laughs 

While “serious” dramas will show hour after hour of people tackling issues without a smile in sight, in this series, life happens far more naturally. People will be starting a confrontation when they spot mom about to walk into a screen door, and when she splats into it, there’s a sudden flash of bonding and laughter before everyone gets back to the Important Issue at hand. And when a booty toot interrupts a hesitant discussion about death between Sam and Ed, it doesn’t burst onto screen like Jim Carrey bursting out of rhino’s backside, but it still relieves a whole lot of tension while illustrating a deep family bond between the two.

Bodily humour and bonding go hand in hand in this show, which also brings us an unforgettable vomiting and vodka scene between the sisters in the middle of a tornado. But the bigger comedy beats come from the characters themselves, who’re as chaotically, believably weird as we all are behind closed doors.  

Somebody Somewhere on Showmax
Jeff Hiller as Joel and Bridget Everett as Sam

4. Short and sweet 

Every episode of Somebody Somewhere packs in plenty of emotion. And while we’d hardly call it a rollercoaster ride, it has an essential factor in common with a real rollercoaster: it packs all its loops and twists into a short, powerful experience. No trying to figure out if you have enough juice in your psychological battery to make it through an hour of heavy personal growth (and then chickening out) – each episode clocks in at under 30 minutes.  

5. Grownup friends 

Making friends as a grownup is challenging. In the first episode, Joel shows how much perseverance it takes when he extends one small kindness after another to Sam. He tries to comfort her when she cries. He reminds her of the effect her singing had on him. He invites her into a friendly space when she needs connection. And he invites her to have mischievous fun with him as they read the book that a former schoolmate of theirs has just self-published. Little by little, he shows her they have common ground, and he holds onto hope in the face of being ignored, gently rejected, and even having his dreams criticised and trodden on, until Sam is finally able to see him and return the friendship.

They hit plenty of stumbling blocks through the series. Somebody Somewhere won’t turn a blind eye to the jealousies that can come with any intense emotional bond, or Sam’s sense of betrayal when she finds out that trusted friends have had secrets they chose not to share with her. But it shows us the rewards of making an effort, because once Sam and Joel hit their stride, the show becomes one of the great tributes to platonic friendship.  

6. Joel 

Joel is the poster boy for trying and doing your best in this series. While he looks like a door-to-door religion pusher, Joel uses the twin superpowers of generosity and resilience to put his faith into practice, even as he pushes back against the constant rejection he gets from within his own church. He’s a man on a mission to build a happy, accepting community around himself, and he has the vision board to back it up. Outside of work, Joel teaches English as a second language, mentors a youth group, volunteers as a clown at a paediatric clinic, and now that he’s picked up Sam as a friend, he’s adding amateur private investigator to his happy-to-help list.

Jeff Hiller is playing Joel in Somebody Somewhere on Showmax
Jeff Hiller as Joel

Season 2 seems to kiss boundaries goodbye as Joel and Sam move in together. But the show does reveal the friction that happens when Joel tries to set boundaries about his time with Sam, and she takes it as rejection. Sam tends to pour all her energy into one relationship at a time, while Joel is able to be far more connected. That’s just who they are.  

7. Choir practice 

While Tricia boasts about her “love the sinner, hate the sin” approach to Holly being a lesbian, Sam, who’s also straight, loved Holly wholeheartedly, and is devastated by her loss. Joel reunites her with the queer community and people who share Holly’s determined individualism and courage by inviting her to “Choir Practice”, a social club disguised as a church choir practice. Joel, a practising Christian gay man, is the event’s co-founder with Fred Rococo (real-life trans actor Murray Hill), the host of the space, who’s a dapper, delightful transgender man stuck in a rural farming community.

Somebody Somewhere on Showmax
Bridget Everett as Sam, Jeff Hiller as Joel, and Murray Hill as Fred

Together, they’ve been building a place where the town’s underground queer community can let their hair down. It’s a drinking, dancing, chatting, socialising affair where anyone who feels the spirit move them can sing or play music on a real stage, or, like Joel’s work friend and boyfriend Michael (Jon Hudson Odom), read from classic works of literature – like Michael’s sister’s childhood diary (worth a wicked giggle). The room is stacked with everyone who’s even a little left of centre, and with her kindness, openness, innate playfulness, and secret talent just waiting to break free, Sam fits right in. PS: if you love Fred, Season 2 places him front and centre in the countdown to his wedding.  

8. Sam’s song 

From the first episode, Joel has been singing Sam’s praises. It’s been at least 20 years since he last heard her sing in their school’s show choir, but the moment he drags her onto stage to sing Peter Gabriel’s Don’t Give Up, you’ll go, “Oh, okay. That’s why.” The show doesn’t play it off like Idols judge Simon Cowell’s amazement that a fat, frumpy middle-aged woman could sing, as if he was seeing a donkey tapdance.

Instead, actress Bridget Everett lends Sam a voice filled with power and emotionality, in a song perfectly chosen to capture the confusion and hopelessness of where she finds herself in her life. It’s something special. Somebody Somewhere underlines something we forget – that music is a human gift that all of us can use as an outlet for expression and connection. You don’t have to be a star to sing. PS: Season 2 brings us a stand-and-cheer performance of Laura Branigan’s Gloria.  

9. Sam gets her man 

Sam is funny, dynamic, and talented, but in Hollywood, where romance only happens to conventionally attractive women, she might as well be a doorknob. In the eyes of Somebody Somewhere, that is clearly absurd. So as Sam starts throwing herself back into life again, she also starts putting herself out there to try relationships with the slim pickings available to her in Manhattan, Kansas. There’s a matter of fact charm and excitement to the flirtatious way that she hooks up with her neighbour, Drew (Brian King) and Michael’s friend Craig (Drew Shirley), even if she’s not looking to take things any further. 

10. Family 

Stick with this one, they’re a work in progress. Sam could look upon her family – fartin’ farmer Ed, his drunk, nagging wife Mary Jo, and prissy, preachy sister Tricia – and despair. But there are great undercurrents of love inside this family. As Sam struggles to tackle her mom’s alcoholism, Ed reveals that he can’t figure out how to make her stop because they’ve been together for so long that she’s a part of him.

Somebody Somewhere on Showmax
Mary Catherine Garrison as Tricia

Season 1 episode 6, the show opens a fascinating window into the family during a therapy session centred on Mary’s alcoholism. And when Sam believes that Tricia’s husband Rick is cheating on her with her fellow mean girl business partner Charity (Heidi Johanningmeier), her gut reaction is anger – on Tricia’s behalf. Despite Tricia constantly acting like the poisonous embodiment of Live, Laugh, Love energy, from the first episode, confrontations between the sisters hint at the hurt and jealousy behind Tricia’s attacks on Sam. While the show doesn’t push you to like her, there’s a payoff coming in Season 2 as Rick’s affair tosses Tricia’s life into a tornado. 

Come on, we’re inviting you to join us for Choir Practice Night! Watch Somebody Somewhere S1-2 now 

Three new episodes of Somebody Somewhere season 2 air Mondays on Showmax.

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