Somebody Somewhere is the warmest comedy on TV — and Jeff Hiller is its heart
The HBO series also offers one of the most interesting depictions of queerness currently onscreen
Queeries is a column by CBC Arts producer Peter Knegt that queries LGBTQ art, culture and/or identity through a personal lens.
This Sunday, after everyone watches the characters on Succession and Barry destroy one another (and/or themselves) on those series' massively anticipated final episodes, another show will quietly provide the ultimate anecdote to that carnage: the remarkably special — and wildly underrated — Somebody Somewhere.
Rightfully garnering a reputation among its growing fanbase as television's most deeply human and heartfelt show (sorry, Ted Lasso, but you don't even come close), Somebody Somewhere has also been offering us one of the most interesting relationships currently onscreen. Its lead characters Sam (Bridget Everett) and Joel (Jeff Hiller) are not lovers or enemies or even siblings fighting to succeed their father's empire. They're two 40-something best friends — a straight woman and a gay man — living in small-town Kansas and doing their best to see each other and themselves.
There's really never quite been a pair like them on television before, and that is proving to strike quite the chord with the many viewers who feel seen by them.
Having made its debut back in January 2022, Somebody Somewhere concludes its second season this weekend (it's yet to be picked up for a third, but dear lord, HBO — rarely has a renewal been this deserved). The show's initial appeal for many (myself included) was that it finally provided a high-profile showcase for the remarkable talents of Everett, who has been killing it as a cabaret performer, singer, comedian and actress for a decade. (Find your way to literally anything she did before this show; I recommend Inside Amy Schumer, Patti Cake$, her 2015 Comedy Central special Bridget Everett: Gynecological Wonder, and her performance of "Piece of My Heart" on Jimmy Fallon.)
But anyone who watched would be immediately captivated by Hiller, whose work previous to the series was mostly bit guest parts on shows like 30 Rock and Community.
Through Joel, Hiller is a most worthy on-screen partner to Everett (give them both Emmy nominations, please!) — and he offers us one of the television's most distinct and remarkable queer characters in the process. Joel is a single man in his 40s trying to negotiate his relationship to Christianity while living as an openly gay man in a deeply red state. And in a radical turn of events, he's also quite good at loving himself and everyone around him.
"When I read the script, I was like, 'I know this person so well,'" Hiller tells me. "I actually know people like him from my hometown. I know a lot of gay men who are members of faith communities and who are great solid friends and have their chosen families. But I also have never seen anything like that on television or films or anywhere. So I was super excited."
Hiller was initially brought in to audition for the role because of Everett.
"I just sort of knew her from around, and she asked if I would be willing to audition for her show on HBO," he says. "And I was playing, like, waiters once a year on a sitcom. So I was like, 'Yeah, I'm willing, I'm willing to audition.' And then when I read the script, I was like, 'Oh my God, this feels like me. This feels like someone I know exactly how to play.'"
"I really thought they must have wrote it for me. And then later they were like, 'We didn't. We didn't know who you were.'"
They certainly know who Hiller is now, and we are all better off because of it. Somebody Somewhere's creators — Hannah Bos and Paul Thureen — have utilized him (as well as comedian and drag king Murray Hill, who has a supporting role on the show as a transgender soil scientist) to offer up a slice of queer hopefulness in a world that often feels devoid of it.
"It's a show where the writers aren't being like, 'Let's portray gay men differently!' or, 'Let's have a trans man!' They're not trying to prove a point. They're just writing a show about authentic characters, and these authentic characters are also queer or trans or, you know, not like other people you see on TV."
"It's revolutionary to show queer people who were just happy or who are just human and three-dimensional. I mean, that's kind of pitiful. But it's true, especially at this moment and especially in a show set in a red state. It's not like there are no queer people in Kansas — it's just that that's not a story that's often told. And so I'm very grateful for it. It's a gift."
Describing why Somebody Somewhere is such a special gift isn't always easy — something Hiller knows all too well.
"It's a very quiet show," he says. "People are like, 'Without giving spoilers, could you explain the show?' And I'm like, 'There are no spoilers. We're just living life. That's it.'"
"I think sometimes that makes it really hard to market the show and tell people to watch it because it's hard to describe. But really what it's about is humanity."
That humanity is especially welcome considering they've spent a full season airing after two very highly-watched, intensely stressful shows.
"I think people are like, 'I cannot go to bed, I just watched Succession and Barry,' Hiller says. "And I think we have kind of been a Xanax after that methamphetamine or whatever. So maybe people are starting to catch on."
The second season of Somebody Somewhere concludes with its final two episodes this Sunday on Crave in Canada.