Sometimes a show hinges on fine lead performances. Sometimes the supporting players are so well defined that it improves the entire ensemble. But sometimes both come together, and a viewer can tell pretty much right away. This is what we saw when we watched a new HBO series starring comedian Bridget Everett. Read on for more.
SOMEBODY SOMEWHERE: STREAM IT OR SKIP IT?
Opening Shot: We see cornfields and pastures, a small-town diner, then photos of Sam Miller (Bridget Everett) as a kid. Cut to Sam working as a standardized test grader in a large room with a few dozen others.
The Gist: Sam moved back to her hometown in Kansas to take care of her sister Holly, who was dying of cancer. It’s been a month or two since Holly’s death, and Sam is still trying to cope; she hasn’t even gotten off the couch she was sleeping on.
She has a mini-meltdown while reading an essay, and her co-worker Joel (Jeff Hiller), who has been just been made her supervisor, gives her the rest of the day off. Joel knows from their time in high school show choir together, and he thinks her voice was transcendent. She doesn’t sing at all anymore, and finds it hilarious that one of their former classmates is writing a novel based on their time in show choir.
Sam helps her niece Shannon (Kailey Albus) dye the tips of her hair and she runs afoul of her sister Tricia (Mary Catherine Garrison) when she goes to visit her family. She seems to have a nice bond with her father Ed (Mike Hagerty), but pretty much hates Tricia’s husband Rick (Danny McCarthy), who laughs when her mother Mary Jo (Jane Brody) runs into the glass door when she thought it was open.
Joel, taking advantage of the connection to Sam, invites her to a “choir practice” that takes place at a church in the local dead mall. She’s somewhat reluctant, but she goes, and finds a group of people she can relate to, including the group’s “pastor,” Fred Rococo (Murray Hill). She even admits that she’s in the self-published show choir book, about the rumor that was started about how she used to suck blood out of tampons, and the nickname she got for it: Sampire. Joel calls her on stage during the show and she finds herself singing with emotion for the first time in a long time.
What Shows Will It Remind You Of? In tone if not content, Somebody Somewhere has the feeling of quirky comedies like Work In Progress, Shrill and One Mississippi.
Our Take: Everett generally doesn’t play low key, but she does lower her usual bombastic persona for Somebody Somewhere, and it works amazingly well. Created by Hannah Bos and Paul Thureen, with Mark and Jay Duplass as two of the executive producers (Mark Duplass directed the first episode), Somebody Somewhere is a pretty simple story, told really well by Everett’s multifaceted performance.
Sam never fit in in the world of Manhattan, Kansas, even though that’s where she grew up. She found a purpose when Holly got sick, but now that she’s gone, she’s adrift again. It seems that the only person in her family that is even remotely supportive is her father; Tricia is too concerned that she’s putting Shannon in Holly’s “gay-ass t-shirts.”
So as she gets more involved with the Choir Practice group and bonds with Joel, we should see a little more of Everett’s bolder personality come out. But we’re hoping that Sam continues to be fairly low-key, because we also want to see Somebody Somewhere be more about the Choir Practice group and how it helps Sam deal with the myriad issues in her family, especially in light of Holly’s death.
With Murray Hill as Fred, Hudson Odom as Michael and some of the other members of the group, the first episode already establishes a fun ensemble, and we hope that we see more storylines about them as well as Joel and Sam during the first season.
Sex and Skin: None so far.
Parting Shot: Sam is given an ovation after her performance, and she smiles at Joel, who dragged her up on stage.
Sleeper Star: We mentioned Murray Hill, who plays Fred Rococo. In the few scenes he was in during the first episode, he made his presence known just like he does in his “Mr. Showbiz” stage act.
Most Pilot-y Line: Rick shows up at Choir Practice, wearing a KC Chiefs jacket, sees Sam, and leaves. Is he as weird as she is or did he think this was something else?
Our Call: STREAM IT. Bridget Everett’s subtle and charming performance is just one reason we like Somebody Somewhere. The first episode also does a good job setting up a great ensemble that we look forward to getting to know.
Joel Keller (@joelkeller) writes about food, entertainment, parenting and tech, but he doesn’t kid himself: he’s a TV junkie. His writing has appeared in the New York Times, Slate, Salon, RollingStone.com, VanityFair.com, Fast Company and elsewhere.