Joel! Sweet, sweet Joel! What have you done? It was only time before Somebody Somewhere put Joel and Sam’s friendship to the test, and that test begins right now with “NMB NMP.” It’s awful and I hate it, by which I mean it’s completely gutting and there aren’t enough tini-tinis in the world to make it okay. And this is only the beginning!
The episode, written by Rachel Axler and directed by Lennon Parham, wisely kicks off by reminding us how special Sam and Joel’s relationship is. They’re goofing off in the car, talking about their own dream weddings. Joel’s includes Sam singing Laura Branigan’s ’80s banger “Gloria” while he walks down the aisle. Sam initially balks at the idea of attempting to take on the late icon — she lives by a simple singing rule: “No Barbra, no Judy, no Branigan” — but the pull is too strong, and before long, we’re all calling Gloria. Although reluctant to even admit to having thought about her own wedding, Sam says she’d want to wear her mother’s wedding dress, and yes, she realizes there’s a real height discrepancy there. “Me, my mom’s dress, and my beaver walking down the aisle to meet the man of our dreams,” she tells Joel. This moment, paired with Joel and Sam meeting Fred and Tiffani at the tailor’s for their tuxedo fittings, is, I think, the reason people are so endeared to this show. They’re such authentic displays of friendship — so warm and fun, and you just want to be around these people as long as possible. They’re also the perfect setup for the emotional gut punch of watching that friendship be put in danger. Am I being dramatic about this? I don’t care! The thought of Sam and Joel in a fight is keeping me up at night, okay?
At the tailor’s, Joel is a little coy about his plans for the day — Sam’s looking for help baking Tricia a birthday cake — and one weird FaceTime later, in which Joel’s face covers the entire screen (I’m still laughing about it, honestly, the perfect cover-up), we learn that he’s on a secret date with Brad Schraeder, née SLS. Oh, this date, you guys! This date is so adorable. These two nerds are hanging out at a historical house in Manhattan, and they couldn’t be more excited about it. I never thought I’d find the sentence “I could listen to you talk about the Kansas-Nebraska Act all day” romantic, but here we are! Joel can’t help but plant a big ol’ kiss on Brad, and friends, it looks like this relationship has gone legit. That’s exciting, of course, but the moment Brad asks Joel to have a meal at the Chef with him — the place where Joel and Sam regularly grab breakfast — you know this whole thing is about to blow up.
It doesn’t take long. When Sam shows up at the Chef waiting for Joel and the waiter says he has Joel’s windbreaker that he left there yesterday when he was in with “Mr. Schraeder,” she knows exactly what’s going on. She leaves. Then, when Joel shows up and is informed that Sam left and has the windbreaker, he knows she knows. He probably is bracing himself a little bit for what he’s walking into when he goes to see Sam face-to-face, but there’s no way he’s totally prepared for Sam’s reaction. If looks could kill, my babies! Poor Joel tries to act casual, tossing in a “guess the secret’s out” and trying to tell Sam that she’d actually really like Brad, but Sam wants exactly none of it. She’s so angry she can barely speak. All she musters is to tell Joel to take his windbreaker and leave. It’s rough. The camera lingers on Sam sitting alone in her kitchen, stewing as she tries to eat some of her takeout breakfast. What a sad little tableau.
Taken alone, it would be easy to decide that Sam’s overreacting, to say the very least. Sure, Joel shouldn’t keep secrets from his best friend, but in the grand scheme of things it’s not that big of a deal, and Sam should be happy that her friend has found someone. But the situation is more complicated than that. What Joel doesn’t know is that he is actually the second person Sam deeply trusts that, in the span of a few hours, she’s learned has kept something important a secret from her. And both for the same reason: They didn’t think Sam would be able to handle the news they had to share. From her reactions to both, it seems like maybe they were right. So, if Joel is one of those people Sam’s feeling betrayed by, who is the other? It’s Sam’s late sister Holly.
It’s a real shame because Sam and Tricia have never gotten along better and it all goes to shit pretty quickly — much like the cake Sam tries to bake for Tricia’s 47th birthday. Sam tells Joel that she wants to make her sister a funeral cake like they used to have as kids because it’s Tricia’s first birthday without Rick and Shannon is off at school. She calls it “a tender gesture,” and she’s not wrong. It’s thoughtful and 100 percent the thought that counts here because Sam is a terrible baker. She knows it and I applaud her bravery for going in anyway. The confidence she has to just wing it is a thing to behold. The recipe calls for room-temperature butter, and she decides to put it in the microwave instead. She needs to add vegetable oil, and this woman just sprays some nonstick spray into the bowl instead of using the vegetable oil right in front of her. “That should be good,” she says. Someone get Bridget Everett a cooking show and someone do it soon.
The thing is, Tricia is still grateful for Sam trying to make the day special, even if the cake turns out like, as Sam calls it, “a big hot dump.” After the sisters share a few laughs about Tricia’s fancy new fridge and Sam’s terrible, somehow very wet cake — “Well, wet is never bad. Oh, you should put that on a pillow.” — Tricia thanks her sister for making an effort and keeping this day light. She admits she’s really been dreading her 47th birthday since it’s the same age Holly was when she was diagnosed with cancer. Sam thinks Tricia’s confused, Holly was 48, but it doesn’t take long for Sam to realize she’s the confused one. This escalates quickly. Tricia tries to explain that Holly kept her diagnosis a secret from Sam because she was trying to protect her — she didn’t think Sam could handle it and she didn’t want to put her through it. Tricia thought keeping that information from her was wrong, but it was Holly’s choice. Sam is so upset, and as much as these two have pretended not to really understand one another, ooohh, buddy, does Tricia get Sam. She knows that Sam wants to leave, and she’s right. She tries to stop her, pleading with Sam not to go, not to cut her out because that’s what she always does. When someone makes “a tiny mistake,” she cuts them out. “You cut people out, Sam,” she yells, almost heartbroken. “You cannot keep doing that; there won’t be anyone left.” And still, Sam goes, and Tricia’s left all alone crying over the sink. It’s wild how fast this show can move from laugh-out-loud funny to achingly real and never miss a beat. The buildup to Sam storming out is so deftly done, and if people aren’t winning awards for this scene alone, what are we even doing here?
Back at home, Sam looks at all the memories of Holly that surround her — her initials scratched in the piano — until she sits down and cries. Bridget Everett in this moment, you guys! Similarly to that scene in the premiere when Sam cries thinking about her dad as she cleans the barn, the camera just lets Everett do her thing here. Eventually, Sam takes off Holly’s necklaces, and the next morning we see that she decided to sleep on the couch again instead of in Holly’s bed. She’s cutting her out, just like Tricia said she would, just like she’s trying to do to Joel. Here’s hoping Sam breaks her habit before it’s too late.
•When Sam first comes home from the big fight with Tricia, Darlene is there to give Sam her cassette from her last vocal lesson. Sam apologizes for running out, but there’s no need to apologize to this angel! Darlene gets it: “Isn’t it strange, something that brings us so much joy can be almost too much to bear?” Sam gives her a long hug, you can tell Sam really needs it. “Keep singing, Sam. We need you,” Darlene says as she goes. Give this woman Teacher of the Year or something!
• Tricia goes to a local party-rental store to start reserving items for Fred and Susan’s wedding, but the owner, Heather, refuses her business. At first, Tricia assumes Heather has an issue with Fred and immediately defends him and that’s called growth, baby. But Heather doesn’t know Fred — she does know, however, that Charity told her all about how Tricia tried to hook up with Coop. After Tricia’s done cackling at the absurdity of Charity trying to tarnish her name, she calls Charity a skank and makes a joke about her spreading rumors and her legs, and I’m so glad not all of old Tricia is gone.
• As someone whose college pregame playlist included Laura Branigan’s “Gloria” in steady rotation, I was thrilled to see it get a shout-out here. Will Somebody Somewhere do for Laura Branigan what Stranger Things did for Kate Bush? I sure hope so.
• Petition for Joel and Brad to double-date with Leslie Knope and Ben Wyatt.
• Drunk on her birthday and ignoring calls and texts from Rick, Tricia decides to tag Charity in a “Lying Cunt” pillow Instagram post. It’s about time, Tricia.
• Tricia’s fancy refrigerator can also play music, and her choice to dance alone in her kitchen to Joan Armatrading’s “Show Some Emotion” is perfect.
• Sam thinks Tricia should name her new pillow company “Charity Cases,” and I second that.
• “Sick! Oh, my god, I can’t believe I said ‘sick.’”