In a certain famous story about Kansas, the protagonist goes on a journey of discovery in a fantastical land, learns something about herself, then returns to a place of comfort by clicking her heels and saying, “There’s no place like home.”
In HBO’s lovely and eccentric “Somebody Somewhere,” which begins Sunday, a Kansas woman with a song in her heart sets out to find her way, not by leaving but by staying. There is a set of colorful companions. There are even, eventually, a tornado and a little dog.
But homecoming, and coming to feel truly at home, is a much more complicated process.
Sam (Bridget Everett) moved back to her hometown to care for her ailing sister Holly, who has since died. A gifted singer who once dreamed of going pro, Sam now spends her nights sleeping on the couch and her days reading essays under fluorescent lights at a test-grading center. As she confesses to her father (Mike Hagerty), one of the few people she feels comfortable with, “I don’t really know where I belong here.”
Sam’s road to finding a new home in her hometown begins when she befriends Joel (Jeff Hiller), a colleague at the test center who, she learns, was in high school show choir with her. (“It’s all good,” he says. “A lot of people don’t remember me.”) When Joel invites her to “Choir Practice” — a semi-sanctioned cabaret soiree that draws gay residents and other free spirits from the community, held after-hours in a mall church — she begins to find her voice and her place, as well as to untangle the hidden mess within her own family.
Set in Everett’s hometown, Manhattan, Kan., “Somebody Somewhere” was created by Hannah Bos and Paul Thureen, who wrote for “High Maintenance,” a high-THC study of oddball Brooklynites. Here, they embrace the sort of far-from the-coast characters you don’t see as often on TV, maybe because they resist caricature.
There are the outsiders and showboats at Choir Practice, which is M.C.’ed by the charismatic Fred Rococo (the comedian and drag king Murray Hill), who heads a university soil-science department by day; farm families like Sam’s, with her even-keeled father and a mother who hides a drinking habit (Jane Brody); and people like Sam and Joel, deep into their 40s and still figuring out what their lives might be. There are religious people and queer people and blue-collar people and creative people, and above all there is the recognition that none of those categories need be mutually exclusive.
Together, they make for a well-observed comedy whose laughs come from performance more than one-liners. The homespun-kooky vibe — a little burlesque, a little Burl Ives — is not what you might expect if you’re familiar with Everett’s raunchy, let-it-all-hang-out stage persona as a singer-comic.
Her performance is restrained and real, as rich and layered as a well-tended soil bed. Sam seethes with long-held anger at her self-pitying mother and her sister Tricia (Mary Catherine Garrison), who had a “love the sinner, hate the sin” attitude toward Holly, who was gay. But Sam is much more diffident and unsure when it comes to facing her future.
The supporting cast is roundly excellent, especially Hiller, who often steals the show. His Joel is like a sweet, middle-aged, gay Richie Cunningham with a wry wit he saves for his friends and a dreamy optimism he pours into his homemade vision board, which the cynical Sam mocks him for. Everett and Hiller have a winning friend-chemistry, and “Somebody Somewhere” is generous enough to let him shine.
The show is generous in spirit, too, even to characters who first seem to be antagonists; Tricia, for instance, begins on a note of church-lady superiority but grows more nuanced and sympathetic. In fact, “Somebody Somewhere” can be generous to a fault, in that Sam’s struggle gets lost at times as other stories in the ensemble are foregrounded.
But I see this broad focus mostly as a strength, giving the season a depth (over a quick seven episodes) that feels as if it could sustain the series for a long run. This is a show made in the spirit of choir, after all. You need to let the voices blend.
And Everett can still be stunning when she solos. There’s not a ton of plot in the season — a small-bore mystery surrounding Tricia’s video game playing doofus husband (Danny McCarthy) provides some scaffolding — but Everett invests the viewer fully as Sam confronts her past. Sometimes looking through your high-school yearbook can be as harrowing as facing a dragon.
When Sam finally takes the stage at Choir Practice, “Somebody Somewhere” reveals itself as something more sweet than bitter. She performs Peter Gabriel’s “Don’t Give Up,” a number from her high school choir glory days, and Joel — a shy guy who blooms into a showman onstage behind the keyboard — takes the Kate Bush part of the duet. “Don’t give up,” he sings. “Because somewhere there’s a place where we belong.”
On ‘S.N.L.,’ Biden Urges Covid-Weary Nation to Stop Seeing ‘Spider-Man’
Spider-Man just finished saving the very fabric of reality, but to hear President Biden tell it — at least on “Saturday Night Live” — the wall-crawler is the one to blame for the continuing pandemic.
To kick off the first new “S.N.L.” of 2022, James Austin Johnson returned in his recurring role as Biden for a news conference in which he told the nation that “there’s one simple thing you can do to make this whole virus go away: Stop seeing ‘Spider-Man.’”
Addressing the White House press corps in the show’s opening sketch, Johnson said: “This virus has disrupted our lives. It’s canceled holidays, weddings, quinceañeras, gender-reveal parties, wildfires that started as gender-reveal parties.”
He went on to say: “Now, think about it. When did ‘Spider-Man’ come out? Dec. 17. When did every single person get Omicron? The week after Dec. 17.”
The last time “S.N.L.” attempted a live episode, on Dec. 18, it was significantly disrupted by the pandemic. Hours before airtime, NBC announced that because of Covid concerns, the show would not use a live audience; the broadcast was missing most of the cast members, had no musical guest and consisted mostly of pretaped segments and sketches from past episodes.
“S.N.L.” was not spared the intrusion of the coronavirus this week. On Wednesday, the rapper Roddy Ricch, who was originally announced as the musical guest, said on his Instagram account that he would be unable to perform because of “recent COVID exposure on my team and to keep everyone safe.” Instead, the pop band Bleachers took his place.
In the Biden sketch, Johnson explained that he was not asking people to avoid the movies altogether. “I said, stop seeing ‘Spider-Man,’” he declared in reference to “Spider-Man: No Way Home,” which has shattered Covid-era box-office records.
“See anything else,” he continued. “I saw the first half-hour of ‘House of Gucci.’ That’s more than enough movie for anyone.”
Questioned about the lack of available Covid testing, Johnson’s Biden answered, “You want to know if you have Covid? Look at your hand. Is it holding a ticket that says you recently went to see ‘Spider-Man’? If so, you have Covid.”
As Johnson started to expound on the existence of the multiverse, he was visited by a shirtless, white-haired Pete Davidson, who explained that he was Joe Biden “from the real universe,” and that this incarnation of reality had been created “as a joke, starting in 2016 when the Chicago Cubs won the World Series.”
When Johnson asked him if he was the president in this real world, Davidson answered: “Of course not. Did you really think you would lose four times and then finally win when you were 78?”
Musical tribute to musicals of the week
When you’ve got an “S.N.L.” episode hosted by Ariana DeBose, a star of Steven Spielberg’s “West Side Story” remake and a newly-minted Golden Globe winner, you know you’re going to have a couple of sketches that pay affectionate tribute to musical theater.
The first of the night was DeBose’s opening monologue, during which she was joined by Kate McKinnon, who professed that “West Side Story” was her favorite musical.
“Did you like the movie?” DeBose asked her. “I didn’t see it,” McKinnon replied. “I don’t leave the house because of Covid and also because I don’t leave the house.” They gamely sang a medley of several “West Side Story” numbers together, including “Tonight” and “I Feel Pretty,” though McKinnon sat out the mambo dance break: “They know I dance,” she said.
Later in the night, the two re-teamed for a “Sound of Music” parody in which McKinnon delivered a deft Julie Andrews impression. DeBose played another wayward woman from Maria’s convent who tries to teach a group of children to sing, with an updated version of “Do-Re-Mi” that’s unexpectedly heavy on references to Queen Latifah. Eat your heart out, Rodgers and Hammerstein.
Biting the hand that feeds you of the week
Earlier this week, when NBC’s Peacock streaming service dropped the trailer for “Bel-Air,” a gritty, dramatic retelling of “The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air,” some viewers wondered if it was an “S.N.L.” sketch.
It wasn’t, but that didn’t stop “S.N.L.” from going forward with this satirical preview for an unnecessarily harsh reboot of another 90s-era sitcom, “Family Matters.” In this incarnation, Carl Winslow (Kenan Thompson) is a sadistic Chicago cop and the lovably nerdy Steve Urkel (Chris Redd) now has an abusive, drunken mom and a violent temper. You’ll never hear the catchphrase “Did I do that?” in quite the same way again.
Weekend Update jokes of the week
Over at the Weekend Update desk, the anchors Colin Jost and Michael Che continued to riff on President Biden’s stalled agenda.
Just like everybody else, President Biden’s New Year’s resolutions fell apart in the third week of January. The Supreme Court struck down his vaccine mandate. The voting rights bill got blocked. And his approval rating is so low, it’s gone into power-save mode. But I will point out, there was another president who had a disastrous start to his first term, yet he became an inspiration to generations of Republicans, even to this day. [The screen shows a picture of Ronald Reagan.] I’m talking of course about Jefferson Davis, president of the Confederacy. [The picture changes to one of Davis.]
“And there are still statues of him in 10 different states,” Jost continued:
Which, come to think of it, probably explains why the voting rights stuff isn’t working out. The bottom line is, I think Biden just needs more time. He might be more of an acquired taste. Unfortunately, most Americans recently lost their sense of taste.
Che picked up on the Biden thread:
President Biden gave a speech in Atlanta where he called on the Senate to pass two voting rights bills, saying, “I am tired of being quiet.” And to prove it, he took a 20-minute standing nap.
What Will Marianne Williamson Do Next?
To her, Washington is still essentially business as usual. “D.C. has a lot of good political car mechanics,” she said. “That’s not the problem. The problem is that the car is on the wrong road. The car is heading towards a cliff.”
The week before, the Washington Post reporter Dave Weigel had tweeted a photo of Ms. Williamson and Andrew Yang, onstage at an event for Mr. Yang’s new book. Mr. Weigel quoted Ms. Williamson saying, “We don’t want to be Jill Steins, but in any other country, any other advanced democracy, they have multiple political parties.” The tweet predictably triggered speculation about what, exactly, Ms. Williamson intends to do next.
She may not want to be Jill Stein — the Green Party candidate whose presidential run is often cited as a reason Mr. Trump won — but she also doesn’t want to dismiss Jill Stein. After all, Ms. Williamson said, “we need a viable other. I support any third-party effort that makes a thoughtful, articulate critique of the fundamental flaws in contemporary capitalism and its effects on people and the planet” When she ran for Congress in California, in 2014, it was as an independent.
Ms. Williamson sees the two-party system of today as blighted and controlled by corporate interests. “Republican policies represent a nosedive for our democracy,” she said. “And Democratic policies represent a managed decline.” And yet she also believes that this is the year it will change. “The status quo is unsustainable,” she said. “There is too much human despair out there.”
She is not willing to say whether she’ll run again, and dodged the question over the course of our many conversations. About two weeks ago, when Politico published an article suggesting that President Biden would face a primary challenge from a progressive candidate, “such as former Sanders campaign co-chair Nina Turner, 2020 presidential candidate Marianne Williamson or millionaire and $18-an-hour minimum wage advocate Joe Sanberg,” Ms. Williamson declined to comment.
James Carville, the longtime Democratic strategist, is skeptical. “She ran before and she didn’t get a lot of votes,” he said. “She’s kind of an interesting person to say the least, but I don’t think politics is her calling. She always struck me as a new age Bernie Bro.”
Is Interning for an Influencer Worth It?
Jon Rettinger, 41, who runs several technology-focused YouTube channels, said he hoped to provide his interns with useful guidance. It’s “a real job that’s not all Lamborghinis and boxing matches,” he said, noting that many creators are subjected to online bullying. “I would have wanted someone to tell me, because I was really unprepared,” he said.
Former interns said that they valued such mentorship. Sara Naqui, who started out taking photos on a volunteer basis for Ms. Chandler at Effie’s Paper, now has a contract with the company and her own YouTube channel. “She supported me in a way that I’d never had an adult support my creative endeavors,” Ms. Naqui, 24, said of Ms. Chandler.
Vela Scarves, a fashion-forward hijab brand, and its co-founder and creative director, Marwa Atik, have made a point of inviting followers to volunteer at photo shoots and apply for internships. “You’re reaching out to a funneled pool of people who support you, believe in you, see themselves in the product,” Ms. Atik, 31, said. “It’s a much stronger connection when we bring on our girls.”
Khadija Sillah, 23, a former Vela Scarves intern, said that “Marwa extended herself as a mentor to me and helped me connect with brands and brainstorm content ideas, even when I lacked motivation.” She was recently hired as a full-time social media associate with the brand.
Ms. Chandler said her interns built the social presence for Effie’s Paper — on Pinterest, Instagram and eventually TikTok — from the ground up. “A decade ago, I was a lawyer transitioning to entrepreneurship,” she said. “I didn’t have time to think about social media.”
Later, Ms. Chandler solicited the help of a former intern, Chloe Helander, who’d started her own social media consultancy. Ms. Helander suggested that Ms. Chandler should be the star of the Effie’s Paper social accounts; after all, many companies today treat their executives as the faces of their brands.
Ms. Chandler was skeptical at first. “I think I’m too brown and too old,” she said.
Now, Ms. Chandler said, “she is the reason my face is all over everything.”