When you hear the iconic HBO intro sound, it often leads into an epic (aka expensive) drama or a show set in Los Angeles or New York, almost inevitably about rich and/or powerful people. With its second season, the Duplass Brothers-produced “Somebody Somewhere” upends that expectation with its gentle, low-key comedy set in Manhattan — Manhattan, Kansas, that is. Yet it isn’t just the series’ tender angle on the lives of real people that surprises; it’s the juxtaposition of that warmth with its delightfully profane sense of humor. Somehow, this sweet, quietly moving show might hold the network’s record for the most uses of the C-word in a single episode. Brava, Bridget Everett. Brava.
READ MORE: ‘Somebody Somewhere’ Season 2 Trailer: Bridget Everett & Jeff Hiller Star In HBO’s Charming Comedy Series
The show’s first season was grounded in fresh grief, with Everett’s Sam Miller living in her childhood home in the small town after the death of her sister, Holly. A lot of the show’s early episodes focused on her challenges with her family, particularly her alcoholic mom Mary Jo (Jane Brody), and critical sister, Tricia (Mary Catherine Garrison), while she finds comfort in the sanity of her father, Ed (Mike Haggerty). After the off-screen passing of Haggerty, the second season shifts its focus to be more about the found family Sam discovered through choir practice in Manhattan, explaining away Ed’s absence with an extended fishing trip with his brother. The season finale, “To Ed,” pays tribute to the character and actor in moving ways, made all the more impactful for those who know about the actor’s death. Meanwhile, standout Murray Hill gets more screen time as soil scientist/emcee extraordinaire Fred Rococo in an expanded role this year. Still, it’s Sam’s deepening friendship with Joel (Jeff Hiller) that serves as the true heart of the second season.
Compared to “Succession,” “House of the Dragon,” and “The Last of Us,” the stakes in “Somebody Somewhere” can seem minor, but these are the types of stresses and conflicts that keep real people up at night. We aren’t dealing with a struggle over billions of dollars, the control over an entire kingdom, or the fate of the human race; we’re worrying about what’s happening to our aging parents, how life changes will affect our friendships, and where we fit in the world. Creators Hannah Bos and Paul Thureen, writers of the wonderful indie drama “Driveways,” have made a lovely little show about opening ourselves up to others. Seeing the growth of Sam and all of the supporting characters is as rewarding as if we actually know them, and it feels like we do. Some of the directions the show takes in this season feels engineered toward its larger themes rather than as organic as one might hope for a series like this, but each of these characters remains authentic in how they respond.
The show is gracious and caring toward these people, treating what may seem like small lives in a small town with so much affection and respect that it’s almost revolutionary. It’s both humane and humanist, but it also is fully accepting of the role that faith and religion play in some of these characters’ lives. They make mistakes, but the people on screen in “Somebody Somewhere” are never treated with disdain or as the butt of the joke. Minor, initially silly characters who would be simply a one-off gag in another show are given little arcs in “Somebody Somewhere,” reinforcing the series’ idea that everyone is worthy of being loved.
Yet, for all its emotional depth, Bos and Thureen’s series has gotten funnier this time around too. Grief, fear of rejection, and uncertainty are still present in these people’s lives, but there’s more to laugh about, especially between Sam and Joel. Their close connection gives them inside jokes, silly acronyms, and truly intimate conversations. Everyone in this cast is terrific, but the moments between Everett and Hiller are alternately hilarious and heartfelt, as likely to make you laugh as to cry — or do both at the same time. This season leans a bit more on Everett’s raunchy off-screen persona for its humor, but it remains true to the core of who Sam Miller is. Everett doesn’t just get to say the c-word over and over again in an inspired flood of profane puns; she also dives deeper into Sam’s emotional insecurities and vulnerability. Everett’s singing voice — one of the first season’s highlights — gets a subplot here, with the season finale offering a pair of showstoppers that don’t just entertain; they each reveal how much Sam has grown over the seven episodes this season. She is such a specific, well-realized character who feels rare in the TV landscape but absolutely like someone you know in real life.
“Somebody Somewhere” isn’t a marquee show that overtakes your Twitter feed Sunday night and your conversations on Monday; instead, it’s the kind of series buoyed by word of mouth and the sheer wonder that something like this exists — and exists on HBO. This is the exact kind of show that one expects Warner Bros. Discovery CEO David Zaslav will ax — if he somehow knows about this sublime, small comedy. One hopes the joyous season two finale doesn’t mark the end for “Somebody Somewhere,” but if it does, the show will go out on its own terms, with its final minutes offering notes of giggle-inducing awkwardness, but also triumph and hope. [A-]