There’s a little gem of a TV series streaming on HBO, and I think you should check it out.
“Somebody, Somewhere” flies under the radar that immediately detects flashier productions with big-name stars, but it more than holds its own as an engaging comedy/drama with a voice and tone all its own.
The show is set in Manhattan, Kan., where its lead actor and executive producer, Bridget Everett, grew up. Not unlike Athens, Manhattan is home to a large state university (K-State), but otherwise has a decidedly small-town feel.
Sam (Everett), in her 40s, returned to her hometown a year or so before the series picks up, to help care for a sister who has since passed away. Sam had been living in Lawrence, the other major college town in Kansas, where she worked as a bartender and apparently had few emotional demands placed on her.
It’s not the same back in Manhattan. Surviving sister Tricia has a shaky marriage and serious attitude toward Sam. Their mother is a (barely) functioning alcoholic. Their father, a decent, hard-working guy, is trying to keep the family farm going amid ever-more-challenging financial demands.
At her numbingly unrewarding job grading student essays for the sort of company that employs perky “mentors” and tracks every second of its workers’ time, Sam reconnects with Joel (Jeff Hiller), an oddball she barely remembers from high school show choir.
And thus begins Sam’s journey toward self-discovery.
If it sounds unremarkable, it is — in terms of premise. Although its incidental music and establishing shots sometimes recall “Schitt’s Creek,” this series is really unlike that show or any other I’ve ever seen.
For starters, no one in the cast is movie star pretty. Everett is a large woman, nearly always dressed down for her role in T-shirts and jeans or shorts, with no makeup and lifeless, shoulder-length hair. Hiller, whose character is gay, has a tough-to-describe combover head to go with his quirky, unfashionable wardrobe.
Their mutual friends who attend Joel’s “choir practice” (more of an excuse to drink and socialize) are, likewise, nonglamorous individuals with specific, distinct personalities.
A note on the casting and production: Although establishing shots of Manhattan, Kan., are regularly featured, the series is filmed outside Chicago, affording a large talent pool of actors for the production. It is cast to perfection, from the largest to the smallest roles, with everyone believable as ordinary Kansans. (As an ordinary Kansan myself, I know whereof I speak.)
So, you may ask, if it’s so “ordinary,” why is “Somebody, Somewhere” special?
It’s in the honesty of the relationships. Film critic Roger Ebert once said the more specific a story is, the more universal it can be to those who experience it.
That holds true here. I’ve teared up at the universal truth of this story’s complex family relationships. And I’ve laughed out loud at the sometimes unlikely friendships that form, knowing that there’s beauty in people making honest connections, no matter how weird we might be.
I’m still not doing the show justice, however. That’s why “Somebody, Somewhere” is my recommendation for you.
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