There’s a whole laundry list of things I love about Somebody Somewhere: its specificity of place and character, the way the writing deftly maneuvers between laugh-out-loud funny and quietly tender, the perfectly assembled troupe of actors giving such dialed-in, authentic performances, Bridget Everett, Bridget Everett, and Bridget Everett. The list goes on and on. In the show’s gorgeous season two return, however, the element that’s on full display is Sam and Joel’s friendship. This is unsurprising since the season’s tagline is “a totally platonic love story.” Still, making space for us to mostly just watch these two friends hang out felt like an ingenious way to welcome us back into this world.
Somebody Somewhere picks up several months after the finale, and while much has stayed the same in Manhattan, Kansas, there are some key changes. Joel is now renting out his house on Airbnb, which means he’s sleeping on Sam’s couch most nights in a sort of “marriage of convenience”; Tricia’s Tender Moments store has been officially closed, and her cheating husband Rick is fully out of the house and nowhere to be found as their daughter Shannon leaves for the University of Kansas. In the interim months, Sam and Tricia’s mother, MJ, had a stroke and is wreaking havoc at a skilled nursing facility while their father, Ed, urged by Sam, is off on a fishing trip in Texas with his brother, finally doing something for himself. However, the most delightful thing to see is just how close Sam and Joel have become.
“NNP” mostly feels like a day-in-the-life episode for Sam and Joel — and that’s not a knock. It’s lovely and I missed them so much. They’re getting their 10,000 steps in at the park while playing “pound it or pass” with all the “honeys” that walk by. They’re meandering around the hardware store for cleaning supplies when Joel’s recent Airbnb guests let their dog shit all over the carpet (and have the audacity to give him a two-star rating). They’re drinking their tini-tinis in their kitchen in their undies (well, Sam is, anyway) on their “Designated Drinking Night” (not to be confused with “Designated Non-Drinking Nights”) and texting each other from the other room before they go to bed. But most of all, they’re laughing. They make each other laugh so much. I know it’s a weird thing to elaborate on, but this is yet another aspect of Somebody Somewhere that I love so much — it lets its characters laugh at one another. In most shows, even comedies, the characters aren’t in on the jokes. Here, by letting these characters make each other laugh, it gives the show an authenticity and relatability that helps it stand out. It gives Sam and Joel’s relationship the easy, breezy intimacy that makes them so endearing. They feel like fully-realized people. It’s why we want to spend so much time with them.
Sam and Joel’s relationship is not the only one that benefits from this aspect of the show. After Tricia sends Shannon off to college and realizes she’s in an empty house, cooking a full family meal for just herself, she calls Sam and invites her and “her buffer” Joel to join her. Sam and Tricia aren’t those sisters who are best friends, but they aren’t feuding sisters either — they’re those sisters who dislike a lot about the other, but also very clearly love one another. I guess Tricia’s contact list is a short one, but still, she calls Sam when she’s feeling lonely and that’s not nothing. Tricia insults Sam to her face — “You’re good at being alone” is not remotely a compliment. While Sam at least, mostly, keeps the insults behind Tricia’s back — she and Joel have a safe word to get out of the dinner. Yet, the drunker Tricia gets (she has the heaviest pour in town), the more you can see those mile-high perfect suburban mom walls come down (at least for a little), and Tricia is a much more tolerable person. When she confesses to Sam and Joel about trying to get Charity’s husband Coop to have an affair with her, but he turned her down, you can tell Sam and Joel throw that safe word right out the window. They are interested. Tricia is just a little bit of fun tonight. When she launches into her whole “pencil test” bit to prove that Coop was an idiot for rejecting her and her perky tits, you can see Sam instantly recognize the game from their childhood, a reminder that there’s a history between them. Because this show is all about diverse tit representation, Sam does her own tit test. When she proves she can hold a bottle of salad dressing under her boob, and the two sisters gang up to make Joel pick whose boobs he prefers, the laughter shared between all three shows there is a warmness between the sisters even now. All of this is to say that even though Somebody Somewhere isn’t the most plot-heavy dramedy on TV, there’s a reason for even the most insignificant moments. Every minute of this half-hour show is doing some work. Even the parts about what your boobs can or cannot hold up.
But this series isn’t just about laughs; it tackles grief and loss in nuanced, subtle ways, too. We know this. The emotional high point of this episode comes while Sam’s cleaning up her dad’s barn. He’s off in Corpus Christi, Texas, taking some time for himself with his brother, urged by Sam, who didn’t want her father to have to be the one to fix up the farm before they begin renting their land and barn. “It would break his heart,” she later tells Joel. It is something she wanted to take on for him, a person who has rarely, if ever, done anything for himself. Sam’s happy to do it and happy to hear that he’s enjoying his time away. But it doesn’t take long for the emotional heaviness of what she’s doing to kick in. She sees her dad’s hat and sits at his workbench and is in tears. She calls Joel (another sign of how close they’ve become) and asks him to sit on the phone with her for a little while. “He loved this place and now I just feel like I’m packing up his whole life,” she tells him. She knew packing up the barn would break her dad’s heart, but “didn’t know it’d break [her’s].” It’s a gorgeous scene in which the camera never moves and there are no cuts; it’s just Sam feeling everything. Like the dinner at Tricia’s, this scene does so much: It reveals how close Sam and Joel are — she can be and wants to be vulnerable with him — and speaks to one of the show’s basic tenets: family comes first.
However, the scene’s biggest emotional punch surely comes from the other layer of this entire storyline about Ed. Mike Hagerty, who portrayed Ed, died before season two was filmed. Instead of killing off the character, Somebody Somewhere decided to handle Hagerty’s absence by sending Ed off on an extended trip. Isn’t that just kind of gorgeous and lovely? You can see the real world bleed into all the actors’ faces when they talk about Ed. When Sam and Tricia read Ed’s letter about his trip so far, or when Fred Roccoco shows up because Ed asked him to help the girls with the farm, they’re wistful but also happy to imagine the best for Ed and the best for Hagerty. Just like the series in general, it’s a quiet but no less lovely way to handle the whole thing. It tracks, doesn’t it? Somebody Somewhere might not necessarily be “about” a lot, but it’s also, somehow, about all the most important things, and this second season opener proves that over and over again.
• I avoid walks with other people at all costs, but if forced, I will be using this line for the rest of my days: “You know I don’t have the infrastructure to go this fast.”
• The only real “pass” Sam gives to prospective honeys is to the one that probably “hates Cher,” and I respect that.
• Sam rushing to drop off clean underwear for her mother so she doesn’t have to actually see her mother, and then the change on her face when MJ shows up just as she’s about to leave was just a perfect little character moment.
• I can’t say enough great things about Mary Catherine Garrison’s performance in this episode. I’m not even talking about her hilarious drunk dinner antics (although, yes, great); I mean the little turn away she does to wipe her tears so her daughter can’t see them; I mean the look on her face when she walks into her now empty house; I even mean the perfect way she screams “oh my fucking god” when she sees Charity’s real estate sign in the lawn next door. Top marks all around.
• “Joel, I will not stand by while my mother is a cunt to you.” A true mark of deep and lasting friendship!
• Hi friends, I braved Googling “weiner hole” just so I could let you know that you too can own the Weiner Hole t-shirt Bridget Everett wears in the opening scenes of this episode. You’re welcome.