Comfort Watch of the Month: Somebody Somewhere on HBO MaxPhoto Courtesy of HBO Max TV Features Somebody Somewhere
Comfort Watch of the Month is a new column dedicated to the happiest television shows available on streaming. Each month, I will give a full rundown on why a different series should be your go-to comfort watch, breaking them down into three categories: Family + Friends, Conflict, and Love. At the end, these shows will be given a score—not a numerical value, but a comfortable feeling or situation that they evoke.
The creators of these shows infuse love and care into their projects. They feature characters we can relate to, or we aspire to be. They give us hope in humanity, belief that everything will turn out okay if we’re all just a tad bit kinder. They’re still well-made, but unabashedly sweet, never afraid to make you cry—but happy tears only. They put a big, cheesy smile on my face. Maybe they can do the same for you.
Somebody Somewhere focuses on the after. The HBO series, created by Hannah Bos and Paul Thureen, largely concerns itself with the days, weeks, and months after tragedy strikes. Problems began long before the start of Somebody Somewhere; the lives of the characters of this quaint drama are already strained and stressed. Focused on Sam (Bridget Everett), a woman still mourning the loss of her sister and attempting to settle back into her hometown of Manhattan, Kansas (Everett’s real hometown), the series wants to examine how humans bounce back, how we wall ourselves off, and how we persevere.
Produced by and taking on the cinematic persona of the Duplass Brothers, the 7-episode first season begins six months after Sam’s sister’s death, as the mid-40s ex-show choir standout looks to find a home within a home. It’s about the return to a place that she once felt comfortable, seeking to find normalcy and stability after years of feeling lost. Working at the local testing grading center, she (re)meets Joel (a tremendous Jeff Hiller), her old high school friend who is a little less lost and a little happier than she is, knowing what he wants out of this life. Sam also reconnects with her sister, Tricia (Mary Catherine Garrison), and spends time with her parents. Often, Somebody Somewhere can feel like it’s about nothing, when in reality, it’s about being human—which makes it about everything.
Nothing happens outside of the general ups and downs of (small-town) life. People go to church. Families throw barbecues. Someone goes to rehab. Husbands cheat on their wives. Bos and Thureen, taking a cue from their Duplass collaborators, don’t overdramatize any of it. Somebody Somewhere contains a regularity, a sense that Sam’s life could be interchanged with many others. As the title suggests, she’s just a person attempting to sort through everything. She has a great voice, but she’s no different than other people recovering from a death in the family, a divorce, or any other personal tragedy that can arise simply from living life to a certain age. Though not extraordinary in its portrayal of these characters, the series excels in its tangible sense of humanity, looking at this town with extreme care. Sam deserves to be loved, just like everyone else in Somebody Somewhere. The tiny moments aren’t a waste, nor are the big ones. The creators give everyone time to make mistakes and to be heard, time to celebrate and to reflect, time to continue moving forward towards, hopefully, something greater.
Family + Friends
The series begins by exploring the dynamics of Sam’s family: her strained relationship with her sister, her commitment to helping her dad (the late, great, warm Mike Hagerty), and her mother’s (Jane Drake Brody) sustained alcoholism. These storylines swirl around Sam, consuming her until the next issue pops up. Her family’s strength isn’t doubted; their connection is constant. Even when they don’t seem to like each other much, they still love one another. They interact like most families, with many opinions left unsaid, and problems buried or put off until someone’s in danger. Still, support never wavers, and each of them opens up throughout the season—with Haggerty’s Ed Miller, a relaxed, kind, in-debt farmer shining the most.
Haggerty and Everett carry the family in terms of performances. The former brings a gentleness to the screen, a comfort to his scraggly persona and endless support of his wife and daughters. He speaks little, but brings a subtle familiarity to the show; a teddy bear of a man who peels back his emotional layers as the episodes progress. Meanwhile, Everett seems to have lived all of this before, and maybe she has, as she walks and talks through her hometown. The multitalented performer guides us through this place with charm and wit, oscillating between cynicism and dreaming of something better, misunderstanding the goodness surrounding her.
Her friends come in the form of Joel, Tricia, and later, Fred Rococo (Murray Hill). She meets others at Joel’s Choir Practice, a spot for underseen and overlooked people to find a community. The event fills the local Presbyterian church with outsiders, those that haven’t found their place yet. At her first practice, Joel calls her on stage, and she sings “Don’t Give Up” by Peter Gabriel, a song she used to sing in show choir 25 years earlier. It’s a bookend for the first episode, starting with a lonely cry during her day grading essays, and ending with a roaring crowd, a smiling Joel, and a weeping (and singing) Sam. Everett energizes the episode with her bravado, her intimacy, and her voice, special in its singularity and in its strength.
Each character in the 8th biggest town in Kansas struggles with belonging. That’s the reason they go to Choir Practice, or they stay in relationships, or they don’t speak up when someone else is hurting. Sam doesn’t feel like she has a home without her sister Holly, and Manhattan’s smallness lessens her willingness to try to find happiness. She doesn’t believe she can find anything in a town so tiny. She doesn’t even know what she wants to do, what she wants to have, or what she deserves. Joel represents the opposite, understanding his dreams and goals, aware that he, Sam, and everyone else is deserving of the purest of joy. The two fluctuate between these two extremes, unable to find balance.
Somebody Somewhere also wrestles with the impact of religion and spirituality on the citizens of Manhattan, Kansas below the surface. In a town with rows and rows of churches, divorce, infidelity, and alcoholism exists undiscussed, as messes no one is willing to claim. Other than Joel, the rest of the characters don’t seem particularly religious, though his commitment to the church, or a church, contains a measured level of resolve. He has a gift in helping people, in trusting in someone or something greater, and of impressing that trust upon others. Religion can provide a community for someone who lacks it, or it can strip it all away, shoving aside those who might be different. Joel’s homosexuality runs as an undercurrent with his spiritual storyline, rarely brought up but understood as a part of his experience within this massive social institution.
Love comes in the form of friendship for Somebody Somewhere. Romantic love falters, with Sam sleeping with a rebound of a man, and flirting with another only to find he’s heavily involved with the local drug trade, despite his Kansan charm. The real love of the series is between Sam and Joel, a friendship three decades in the making. Built initially out of proximity, their bond becomes the focal point of the series, as a love that’s born from a mutual need for one another. They give each other the feeling of being home, the feeling of community, the feeling of another person accepting you fully.
In the last episode of the season, Sam sings a song to Joel in her family’s barn. An original that she wrote over the previous episode, the refrain contains the lines of “I am home // You brought me home.” Both of them forget that others are in the barn, or that others are even present. They’ve connected to create a home, one of love sans romance. In a series filled with questions about finding community and (more consequently) finding happiness, this moment supersedes all worries that fill Sam and Joel’s minds.
To these people, love can be as simple as companionship in a time of trouble. It’s not always grandiose nor boisterous, not full of passion and intensity. It’s down-to-earth and realistic. It’s being there for someone’s zumba workout. It’s spying on your friend’s sister’s husband with them all day instead of going to work. It’s renting a party bus for no other reason other than to cheer up your friend. That’s Joel and Sam kind of love. Hiller and Everett exude a genuine connectedness. Their laughter never looks forced, and the camera is often forgotten. They seem to be two friends enjoying one another’s company, happy, and lucky to spend this time together. That’s Somebody Somewhere love.
Comfort Score: Like when your close friend tells and shows you how much they care, and you really need it in that moment so you start crying and smiling at the same time. Happy tears while getting hugged.
All seven episodes of Somebody Somewhere are available to stream on HBO Max.
Brooklyn-based film and TV journalist Michael Frank contributes to several outlets including The Film Stage, RogerEbert, AwardsWatch, and now Paste. He believes Juliette Binoche deserved an Oscar for Dan in Real Life. You can find him on Twitter.
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