HBO’s Most Recent Winning Comedy About Being Different In the Heartland
If you’ve been a fan of TV comedies in the last decade, there is a chance you have seen or watched a production of the Duplass brothers. Mark and Jay Duplass were independent filmmakers and actors who in the last several years have moved almost exclusively to television. You probably recognize them even if you don’t know who they are — loyal fans of The Mindy Project remember them as the obnoxious holistic OB-GYNs who caused her and her colleagues so much angst. More often they act separately than they do together — Jay was most prominent as the troubled Pfefferman son on Transparent and has recently appeared as a widowed professor who gets caught in a viral moment on The Chair. Mark was recently nominated for a Golden Globe for his work on Apple TV’s The Morning Show.
Both brothers, however, are just as prominent for their surreal and often bizarre anthologies they have produced for HBO. Duplass produced and starred on the far too short lived Togetherness which was a wry comedy dealing with being in your forties Then they executive produced Animals, an absolutely insane animated series which followed animals living lives in a bizarre human world, sometimes and wasteland. And there’s no describing Room 104, their just completed anthology series which had often utterly insane and indescribable situations whose only commonality was that they were set in the title motel room.
Which is why their newest production Somebody Somewhere is bizarre and how normal it really is. There’s a lot of weird stuff going on to be sure, but it’s the weirdness of everyday life.
The series focuses on Sam played by Bridget Everett. Everett is a mostly comic actress, perhaps best known for her work with Amy Schumer, on both her Emmy winning Comedy Central series (always playing herself) and in the movie Trainwreck. She got more exposure in the much beloved Netflix comedy Lady Dynamite and the Emmy nominated Unbelievable. But I’ll be honest I don’t think I knew her true potential until this show.
Sam is a woman in her late forties, living in a small Kansas town. She moved back here a year earlier to take care of her dying mother who has now passed away. She works at a job she truly despises and clearly doesn’t feel like she fits in anywhere. Her sister openly loathes her. When Sam tells her that she came back from New York to take care of Mom, she actually has the nerve to ask: “What have you done for this family lately?” Shannon, her niece, clearly likes her but her sister loathes this relationship. Sam is subtle about being a lesbian, but her sister who is religious, hates her for it and thinks she’s trying to ‘convert here’.
The only person who reaches out to her is Joel (an unforgettable Jeff Hiller) who used to be her friend in school but who she didn’t realize she was working with until he pointed it out to her. He is more open about his homosexuality and is just as determined to make a place for him and others like them in a community that basically despises them. In the Pilot, he invites Sam to ‘choir practice’ which is essentially a gay club where everybody is allowed to be themselves and let their flag fly. Sam, who loved singing when she was much younger and who has buried it for decades, allows herself a moment of triumph when she performs a show-stopper in the final minutes of the pilot.
Somebody Somewhere bills itself as a ‘coming of middle age story’ which is strangely accurate for a tagline. Sam lives in a world where she has sacrificed everything and is still not accepted. In a scene filled with hurt, her sister and a friend from church approve of her relationship with Joel ‘because he might make a good boyfriend’. For a woman who still has a picture of an ex-lover on her mirror — who she goes to visit in the second episode because there’s almost no one else she can talk to — this is excruciating. Her father clearly has not recovered from the loss of her mother. Her job is incredibly boring and filled with colleagues who say nothing but religious platitudes. She barely can interact with the people she met at choir practice. Only Joel is there for her, even when she explodes over his dreams.
I can already see the haters out there ragging on this series as another alternative comedy but in a way we need Somebody Somewhere even more than we needed Pose. Considering the horror stories that we still hear all to often from the Bible Belt (and its not a coincidence that this show takes place in the Heartland) we need stories that show LGBTQ+ not fighting in the same way they do on The L Word but engaged in battles that are far subtler and no less vital. It also helps matter that the series has a gentle and polite humor that everybody can love — the sight of Sam coming to visit Joel in his outfit for Zoomba looks like it could become a meme that we actually need.
Somebody Somewhere doesn’t take place in the same universe as Euphoria, one of the shows it follows. It’s grounded, its real, it’s optimistic, it’ funny and its entertaining, none of which I can honestly say Euphoria is. And it is subtler and gentler in its humor than far too many of the HBO comedies are, even the most brilliant ones — you really can’t see any of the characters being on Veep or Barry. I don’t think I’ve seen a show, comedy or drama, like this on HBO in a long, long time and I mean that in the best possible way. For that reason alone — as well as the fact that it’s pitching a message I think we can all get behind — you should see Somebody Somewhere and then tell a friend about it.
My score: 4 stars.