[Editor's note: Somebody Somewhere was renewed for Season 3 on June 1. This story was originally published on May 29.]
Death has always been the catalyst of Somebody Somewhere, so it's fitting to see the final episode in the show's sophomore season return to that fatal wellspring. The series began with Sam (Bridget Everett) grieving the loss of her sister Holly, thought to be the only person who understood her. She'd just started moving on when a couple of crushing revelations — one involving Holly and another concerning her best friend Joel (Jeff Hiller) — kicked Sam back down, reigniting her fear that maybe she isn't worthy of love. But losing the empathic vocal teacher (Barbara Robertson) she couldn't bring herself to keep seeing shifts something in Sam. If she doesn't renegotiate her resentment toward Joel, Holly, and others in her life, she'll spend the rest of her days facing more missed opportunities.
The second of Sunday's back-to-back episodes doubles as an effective series finale, which is probably what co-creators Hannah Bos and Paul Thureen intended. Somebody Somewhere's viewership is modest by HBO standards, so it could join Enlightened on the list of all-time greats that only lasted two seasons. Hopefully that won't be the case. The conclusion sets up an enticing next chapter, but it also puts something of a bow on Sam's experiences thus far. I, too, want to see her hook up with the hunky parolee (Brian King) next door, just as much as I want to see Joel further explore his blooming romance with nerdy sweetheart Brad (Tim Bagley). Still, there's enough resolution, and enough awareness of TV audiences' vagaries, baked into the episode to feel satisfied.
As Sam walks into her teacher Darlene's funeral, it's hard to tell whether she'll embrace Joel or continue to rebuff him. They grew so close so quickly, but there can be ramifications when relationships accelerate that rapidly. Both of them need each other, a fact that Sam resisted when Joel initially pursued her friendship. After she embraced him in earnest — he is Sam's first deep connection since Holly died — the discovery that Joel had begun dating Brad without telling her came as an awfully low blow.
With Sam's other sister, Tricia (the great Mary Catherine Garrison), revealing that Holly hid her cancer diagnosis from Sam for a year, she is convinced no one believes her worthy of their confidence. Joel and Holly's omissions are signs that she is not sturdy enough for the closest people in her life to share their greatest highs and lows with her. She projects that self-castigation onto Tricia and Joel, to the point of icing out the latter and risking tension at the wedding of their close pal Fred (Murray Hill). For better or worse, Darlene's sudden death turns into a wake-up call. Sam probably would have pursued more singing lessons eventually, but now that chance has evaporated. She chooses to fight her own alienation so she doesn't lose Tricia and Joel, too.
Bos and Thureen tend to describe Somebody Somewhere as low-stakes. So do many journalists who write about the show. It's a reflexive descriptor that positions the series against pop culture's current preoccupations, in which the stakes often seem gargantuan: outlandish crime, world-saving superheroes, the apocalypse, blue humanoids warring on a distant moon. Hollywood has trained us to think of stories about everyday human relationships as slender, but nothing on TV this year has been as moving as Somebody Somewhere.
Acceptance isn't Sam's concern alone. Joel, a hopeless romantic with a vivid image of his fantasy wedding, which includes walking down the aisle to Laura Branigan's "Gloria," has long awaited someone like Brad. That didn't seem likely in small-town Kansas, where he believes no one remembers him, and now his hope is arriving in the form of a man who couldn't be a better match. The same optimism applies to Tricia, a recent divorcée who proclaims in the finale that she hasn't given up on love. Sam's reaction is one of surprise, and possibly disappointment. Will Tricia also abandon her for an admirer? If she does, who will be left to think of Sam as their prime companion? The new, moderately improved Sam opts not to express that paranoia aloud, but Everett's expressions let us know it's weighing on her.
Everett's performance this season was a master class. The show relishes long takes, letting us sit with Sam's emotions as they ebb and flow. She doesn't always mean what she says in the finale, at least not totally. After performing "Gloria" in a spirited tour de force at Fred's wedding reception, Sam encourages Joel to spend time cozying up to Brad instead of hanging out with her like he would have in the past. Everett's face makes clear that the heartache hasn't vanished, though. Sam is using it to mature, to test what it feels like to be patient and agreeable, and Everett is an ideal vessel for those conflicted emotions.
What's more, the show makes time for Everett and Hiller's laughter in a way that sitcoms usually don't. When characters say something amusing, most shows let the audience do the chuckling. But Sam and Joel communicate like real people, which includes giggling at each other's jokes in a way that always feels authentic. Having witnessed the harmony between them makes their discord more arresting. When Sam finishes apologizing to Joel for her cold shoulder, the pair's laughter feels more pronounced than ever, in part because it was absent from their recent interactions. That's the work of two actors in sync.
Did we know Joel and Sam would work things out by the season's end? That Murray's wedding would be a beautiful epilogue? Sure. Somebody Somewhere bucks a lot of conventions, but it's still TV. In case this does become the series finale, we can't leave the characters on cold terms. And yet the show returns to its most centered self, challenging Sam's cynicism without reaching for a 180-degree shift that wouldn't ring true. Please, HBO, let us see what else is in store for these Kansans. If not, we can look to the lyrics of the song that closes the episode, by a band that shares its name with the Midwestern state: "Carry on, my wayward son / There'll be peace when you are done / Lay your weary head to rest / Don't you cry no more."
Seasons 1 and 2 of Somebody Somewhere are available to stream on Max.