In the past decade on streaming and cable TV, we’ve seen a wave of low-concept character portraits. It’s a small, dull wave, unless you look at it closely, at the right angle, so you can see its great, sparkling luminescence.
These series, simultaneously comic and dramatic, slight and profound, sit at the opposite end of the programming spectrum from the uncountably many superhero tales, where nothing less than all of humankind is at stake. On the likes of Tig Notaro’s “One Mississippi,” the Duplass brothers’ “Togetherness,” and the jewel in the crown, Pamela Adlon’s “Better Things,” romantic disappointments, existential queries, and renewed hopes are as “big” as things get.
Bridget Everett’s new HBO series “Somebody Somewhere” is a lovely addition to this genre, which, importantly, is not afraid to focus on the challenges and freedoms that come with middle age. We’re all always coming of age, these shows seem to say, even in the post-30s decades of our lives. In “Somebody Somewhere,” Everett’s Sam is an extroverted woman in her 40s who is lonely, lost, and in need of self-realization. She moved back to her Kansas hometown to care for her ailing sister, but now that her sister has died, she’s rudderless, left to cope with her self-righteous other sister, an alcoholic mother heading back into rehab, and a supremely stoic father — all of whom are experts at burying their emotions and their grief.
That’s the gist, as Sam begins to find her people in the local community — and her underused singing voice, too, which is formidable. The show, which premieres Sunday night at 10:30 on HBO, is a bittersweet, but mostly sweet, slice — not just of Sam’s life, but of the lives of those around her also struggling, most especially Joel (Jeff Hiller), a guy who idolized her in high school. Joel, a gay man who works with Sam grading tests, introduces her to the cabaret-style parties he puts together secretly at his local church, and he encourages her to perform for the supportive and mostly queer audiences (and the shows’ host, played warmly by Murray Hill).
The new friendship of Sam and Joel is one of the show’s highlights, as the chemistry between Everett and Hiller shines brightly — brightly enough, in fact, to give Joel’s boyfriend some pause. In the annals of gay men and straight women TV relationships, their rapport falls somewhere between Will-Grace and Jack-Karen on “Will & Grace.” At one point, they stalk Sam’s brother-in-law around town, because he appears to be doing something bad behind Sam’s sister’s back, and I felt as though I could watch them riffing in the car for hours, even improvising a song about urine at one point.
That’s right, Everett’s trademark bawdiness (seen in her New York cabaret acts and on “Inside Amy Schumer”) pops up here and there in “Somebody Somewhere,” and it’s a lot of fun. So are the scenes of her performing, at one point singing a potent version of “Piece of My Heart.” She’s a blunt personality surrounded by people in need of hearing truths cloaked in comedy. But her dramatic presence is strong, and her scenes with her sister Tricia (an excellent Mary Catherine Garrison), who thinks she’s living a perfect life, are compellingly fraught.
Everett confidently holds the center of the seven-episode semi-autobiographical show, which she created with Hannah Bos and Paul Thureen, writers from the low-key brilliant “High Maintenance,” and whose executive producers include Mark and Jay Duplass. Her Sam is the kind of character often relegated to a supporting role, possibly as the off-color best friend or the mother of a thinner, more inhibited lead, so it’s a distinctive treat to see her as the linchpin here. Watching her find her voice, and herself, is thoroughly satisfying.
Starring: Bridget Everett, Jeff Hiller, Mary Catherine Garrison, Jane Brody, Mike Hagerty, Murray Hill, Danny McCarthy
On: HBO. Premieres Sunday at 10:30 p.m.