There are no flying dragons, zombies or media moguls in the HBO series “ Somebody Somewhere, ” making it different in tone and scope from the network’s larger, flashier shows. But the Bridget Everett-starring series is unique in its own right for its themes of representation, acceptance and also normalcy in middle America.
In the comedy-drama, Everett plays Sam, a single middle-aged woman living in Manhattan, Kansas, who when we first meet her, is grieving the death of her sister and distant from those around her. It’s like someone turns the lights on in her world when she befriends Joel (Jeff Hiller), a religious, gay man with a big heart who laughs at all of Sam’s jokes and loves her for who she is. Joel invites Sam to sing with his gay choir and she finds the acceptance and community she was looking for. Their circle also includes Sam’s sister (Mary Catherine Garrison) and Fred, a trans scientist played by Murray Hill. In season two, premiering Sunday, each character expands their horizons a little more with new relationships and opportunities.
“It’s a unique little show about a fly-over state,” said co-creator Hannah Bos. “The central idea is how you follow your dreams wherever you are and how you find your community, wherever you are, and how life-saving that can be for people.”
To finally star in her own project is a big deal for Everett, who spent years trying to break through in Hollywood.
“I’m almost 6-feet-tall and big boned, we’ll call it. I don’t look like the people you see on TV,” she said. It wasn’t until the opportunity arose to create her own series with Bos and Paul Thureen, that Everett got to show her skills.
“It’s just my default to never think anything I’m in is good, you know? And I think that’s just a defense mechanism, obviously. But it was a great relief. I feel really happy that the show we wanted to make with a slower pace was something people enjoyed watching… I hope people continue to discover it.”
Everett also sings in the series, which she loves because she performs cabaret in real life and says, “Singing is my life raft. My default.”
Bos says that writing songs into the show presents challenges for Everett’s character because it’s “a show set in the Midwest, not about somebody who left the Midwest to become a star in showbiz in a big coastal city. This character is going to stay in Kansas and try to make it and what does that look like in a small town?”
Not a lot happens in the series. Sam and Joel go for walks to get their steps in. They meet Fred for breakfast. Sam and Tricia bicker over whose turn it is to visit their ailing mother in a nursing home.
It’s the simplicity of “Somebody Somewhere” that makes it stand out from the pack, says Hiller.
“I think this show is about hope. I love seeing dragons and I love seeing pod people eat you but I also just love seeing real people have real lives and real friendships,” he says.
Hill believes hearing that the show seems “real” means progress for the depiction of gay characters on television.
“If you step back a little bit, it’s like, ‘Oh, you are like people that I see when I go to the deli and when I go to the grocery store.’ The difference with this show and then other shows is that (the character) Joel gets to be three-dimensional. Joel is not about being gay and going to gay pride and holding flags. He’s having troubles. He’s laughing. He’s confused. He’s finding love. So when people say ‘real,’ I’m like, ‘Oh, so you’re finally actually seeing us as people.'”
Garrison lives most of the year when she’s not working in Lynchburg, Virginia, where “Kroger is the social hotspot.” She says a woman recently approached her at the grocery store and said she and her friends watch the show together and discuss it after. “She said, ‘I can’t tell you what it means to us to be able to learn about this part of the world that we never would be able to (otherwise.)’ It was one of the highest compliments I’ve ever gotten.”
“The show treats everybody with no assumptions and with such respect that it allows people to see them in the same way,” said Garrison.