There’s a small, unassuming moment in the season-two premiere of Somebody Somewhere — a show made up almost entirely of small, unassuming moments — that captures what makes this series such a welcome chaser to the Succession and Barry episodes that precede it on HBO’s current Sunday-night lineup. Sam (Bridget Everett) and her best friend, Joel (Jeff Hiller), are chatting with Sam’s high-strung sister, Tricia (Mary Catherine Garrison), who’s struggling to recalibrate after her recent divorce. Tricia, tipsy on white wine and attempting to boost her own ego, tells Joel she can still pass the pencil test, a thing she proves by placing a pencil under one of her breasts and watching it clatter onto her kitchen table, thereby offering demonstrable proof that her boobs are still perky. The two sisters then ask the increasingly uncomfortable Joel who has the better pair. “What about the salad-dressing test?” Sam asks, nestling a full bottle under one of her breasts while the entire table bursts into loud cackles.
Whether or not this moment was improvised, it feels improvised, as if this conversation over a bottle of Pinot Grigio would play out exactly like this even if we weren’t watching. This is the beauty of Somebody Somewhere, a series that unfolds at the pace and temperature of real life. It is not inviting us to laugh at Swedish billionaires who send blood bricks to their employees or paid assassins accidentally blowing off their own fingers with exploding pens. It is inviting us to laugh with Sam and those closest to her the same way we laugh with our actual friends. After the frequently nerve-rattling 90 minutes that precede it, Somebody Somewhere’s interest in the relatable, mundane moments of human existence, and in characters who are flawed but ultimately trying their best to look out for one another, feels like a sigh of relief.
To be clear: I deeply love both Succession and Barry, two shows that can be just as funny, in their own distinct ways, as Somebody Somewhere. But as each series barrels toward its respective series finale, the dramatic stakes have never been higher. We care about the characters on both shows because we’ve grown invested in them over four seasons and are curious to see how their stories resolve, but their experiences do not necessarily qualify as relatable; most of us do not fly to Norway on private jets or get into gun battles while we bust out of jail as part of our day-to-day lives. Somebody Somewhere, by contrast, is not heightened at all. The most intense scene in last night’s episode was probably Sam cleaning out her dad’s barn, a moment that takes on added emotional weight with the knowledge that Mike Hagerty, who played Sam’s father, Ed, passed away between seasons.
Interestingly, Somebody Somewhere doesn’t kill off Ed, opting instead to send him on an extended, offscreen fishing trip in Texas, a fate as down-to-earth and undramatic as Logan Roy’s airborne death was earth-shattering. It’s an unremarkable, unobtrusive choice that feels right for both the character and the show, even though death is baked into the premise of Somebody Somewhere — which begins with Sam moving back to her Kansas hometown following the death of her other sister, Holly — as surely as it is in Succession and Barry. But where death casts a long shadow over the proceedings on Succession and Barry, Somebody Somewhere sheds a warm, natural light on both Sam’s grief over her sister and Everett’s grief over her co-star.
While the overall experience of watching Somebody Somewhere can rightly be described as happy, it doesn’t dodge the unpleasant parts of adulthood or friendship, especially this season, when the relationship between Sam and Joel hits some big speed bumps. While it is an extremely likable show, it is not working to make you like it or Sam or Joel or any of its other characters, none of whom are placed on any idealized pedestals. It simply offers a half-hour of watching real, recognizable, potty-mouthed people (Sam could give Logan Roy a run for his money in an Uttering of Obscenities contest) who are dealing with universally recognizable problems — and they’re doing it while living in a place that isn’t New York or L.A., but a state smack in the middle of the country, the kind of place the Roys regularly fly over without a second thought and that Sally Reed can’t get away from fast enough.
Where Succession and Barry can reach almost Shakespearean heights of intensity with their big, dramatic twists and metaphorical as well as literal violence, Somebody Somewhere is deliberately small and focused. It depicts the everyday tasks that fill up so many of our days: trips to the hardware store, visits to parents in rehab facilities, the attempts to walk our way to 10,000 steps a day. It’s also a show that will fix the camera on Sam and let us watch her sit still and cry for multiple minutes without cutting away, because that’s an experience as normal and true to life as laughing with friends over a bottle of wine. Showing us these minor experiences, as well as more major ones like weddings and the departure of children for college, imbues all of them with a deeper meaning that’s easy to miss when we’re dashing from one appointment to the next. Despite how messed up the world looks — in reality and in the environs of other HBO shows — Somebody Somewhere has a way of reminding you to feel grateful for every molecule of oxygen that’s still filling your lungs.