“Somebody Somewhere” is a far cry from the over-the-top, gut-wrenching dramas or goofy sitcoms that seem to populate our screens often. It’s amusing, touching and sometimes a bit uncomfortable, but you might just get a much-needed laugh out of it all the same.
In HBO’s new comedy-drama, Kansas native Sam (Bridget Everett, “Inside Amy Schumer”) struggles to find her place in her hometown after returning to care for her ailing sister, Holly, who has since passed away. In its premiere episode, we see Sam balancing family issues, unresolved emotions from her sister’s death and her soul-crushing job as a standardized test and essay grader. She finds an unexpected companion in her newly promoted coworker, Joel (Jeff Hiller, “30 Rock”), who expresses his condolences for the death of her sister and recounts the awe he felt for her in high school. Apparently, Sam was a pretty big deal. She also clearly has no idea they went to the same high school, despite Joel’s gentle reminder that they did show choir together. “It’s all good,” he says, “a lot of people don’t remember me.” The two endearing and self-deprecating characters are like two peas in a pod, and thus a friendship is born.
Joel becomes a shoulder for Sam to lean on, and occasionally cry on, as she re-learns how to navigate her small-town life. The episode gives viewers the broad strokes of Sam’s nuclear family dynamic, introducing her borderline-alcoholic mother (Jane Brody, “Chicago Fire”), her uptight sister (Mary Catherine Garrison, “Law & Order”), her quiet but understanding father (Mike Hagerty, “Lucky Louie”) and her niece, Shannon (Kailey Albus, “Unadopted”), who seems to be the only person in the entire family who actually appreciates Sam. And then, of course, there’s the honorable mention of Tricia’s beer-guzzling husband, Rick (Danny McCarthy, “Prison Break”), because what family doesn’t have weird and embarrassing in-laws? Sam’s family judges her for being stuck in the past, still wallowing through the pain that’s lingering after her sister’s death. Joel gives Sam a temporary escape from her troubles when he invites her to a choir practice-slash-open mic night at his church. Sounds weird, but I promise it makes sense. Surrounded by new people and potential friends who see her for who she is, Sam is able to take a step toward self-acceptance and moving on.
The premiere episode takes viewers through various different characters and storylines at a comfortable pace, setting the scene of a small and boring hometown full of average and judgmental people — which, as anyone from the Midwest knows, is about as accurate a description as you could get. The progression of events is natural, and while the coming-of-middle-age story might be hard to relate to for those outside of that age range at times, it is at the very least interesting, with themes of family and identity that draw you in regardless of age. Although advertised as a drama and comedy combo, this first episode is definitely heavy on the drama, although it’s not completely void of humor — watching Sam and Joel talk shit about their fellow local high school graduates is sure to get a laugh out of any viewers who (like myself) hail from a small town. Despite this episode’s introduction to Sam’s life featuring mostly sad and pensive moments, we can hope that all the tragic backstory business we see in episode one is just paving the road for all the comedy that is to come.
“Somebody Somewhere” is not a show to wax poetic about. There’s nothing jaw-dropping or unbelievable about it — but that could be its biggest strength. The show is realistic, and while it may showcase a part of life that college kids like me haven’t lived yet, it can still be relatable. Sam is just another person who’s trying her very best to handle whatever life throws at her, and what’s more human than that? “Somebody Somewhere” may not rope you in with any deviously twisted storylines or obscene imagery like some of HBO’s other well-known dramas (looking at you, “Euphoria”), but it might draw you in with its earnestness and honesty instead. When I first queued up this show, I wasn’t expecting much. I walked away from the viewing generally unimpressed, but as I continued with my week, I found myself reflecting back on the touching moments and subtle comedy. It has stuck with me in a way I wasn’t expecting, and if anyone experiencing a mid (or quarter) life crisis like Sam sits down to watch, they might find that it sticks with them too.
Daily Arts Contributor Annabel Curran can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.