With HBO’s “Somebody, Somewhere,” America is about to discover what New York theater diehards have known for years: Bridget Everett is a force — and a voice — to be reckoned with.
You might recognize Everett from various big- and small-screen appearances including “Patti Cake$” (she played the mom of an aspiring white rapper in the 2017 indie flick) and “Inside Amy Schumer” (she had numerous guest spots on the sketch show). And in NYC cabaret circles, she’s renowned for her bawdy act that starts with toe-tapping tunes such as “What I Gotta Do (to Get That D–k in My Mouth)” and “Titties,” a joyous ode to breasts of all shapes and sizes, and usually ends with the star sitting on one lucky audience member’s face.
Yet the coming-of-middle-age series “Somebody, Somewhere” allows Everett — who stars and executive produces — to dig deeper. The actress-singer plays the fortysomething Sam, who’s spiraling after the death of her sister Holly. Her hometown, Manhattan, Kansas (where Everett grew up, incidentally), feels nothing like home. It doesn’t help that sister Tricia (Mary Catherine Garrison) presents herself as a bouncy-haired model of marriage and motherhood, all while running an Instagram-ready downtown shop full of tchotchkes that no one needs but everyone wants. Or that her alcoholic mom (Jane Brody) almost sets the family farm aflame during a picnic.
Thankfully, Sam forges a surprising friendship at work — she grades standardized tests, a task she barely tolerates — with Joel (played by the terrific character actor Jeff Hiller, capitalizing on a Cheshire cat grin and sly but slick delivery). “Hey, if you wanna take off for the rest of the day, I’ll tell Irma you got diarrhea or something,” he offers when she runs out crying. That’s incredibly sweet, especially since they went to high school and performed in show choir together and Sam doesn’t remember him.
Even sweeter: He invites her to “choir practice” in the local mall, which turns out to be less “Glee” and more open-mic night for the local Manhattan misfits in search of a place where they can truly be themselves. The emcee is the fabulously named Fred Rococo — university agriculture expert by day, host-with-the-most by night — and he’s played by another NYC nightclub legend, self-described “shtick slinger” Murray Hill. And with a little prodding from Joel, who plays the keyboards and provides backup vocals, Sam, of course, agrees to sing. (You thought Everett would star in a TV series and not sing? What a waste that would be! But don’t expect anything as salacious as her usual onstage performances — though there is a brief bra-baring moment after she tears into “Piece of My Heart” in episode 3.)
Kudos to creators Hannah Bos and Paul Thureen (HBO’s “High Maintenance”) for making Joel more than just the stock gay BFF. He’s not simply Sam’s sidekick; he has a life and dreams of his own. (And a vision board. Let’s not forget the impeccably crafted vision board, which Sam figuratively cuts to pieces.) We also see the very real varied dynamic between Sam and each of her parents: With her mom she’s brusque and chiding — then again, you would be too if you found your mom passed out in a midafternoon alcoholic stupor; with her dad (Mike Hagerty), she’s low-key and playful (“Who’s a big hot fox?” she jokes, trying to boost his self-esteem).
It’s not a plot-packed series, but there’s a lot of character — and heart — poured into “Somebody, Somewhere.” Plus, between Everett and Hiller, the musical possibilities seem almost endless. (Seven 25-minute episodes were made available for review.) And let’s not forget Garrison, who starred in “Assassins” on Broadway: In episode 3, Tricia and Sam sing a little ditty on the patio with their dad. Perhaps one day Tricia will get invited to choir practice too.
“Somebody Somewhere” premieres on January 16 on HBO at 10:30 p.m. ET.