SPOILER ALERT: This story contains spoilers for “NMB NMP,” the fifth episode of “Somebody Somewhere” now streaming on HBO Max.
Season 2 of HBO’s slice-of-life dramedy “Somebody Somewhere” has, up to this point, put its platonic love story between Sam and Joel in a slowly ascendant bubble, according to star Bridget Everett. But in Sunday’s fifth episode, the bubble burst.
After a season and a half spent piecing her life and relationships back together, Sam (Everett) slides back into isolating old habits after being confronted with back-to-back revelations. “We don’t move at a very fast clip on this show, so it kind of takes awhile to rev up to this moment and what is going to be a big fallout for Sam and the people around her,” Everett tells Variety.
First comes the family bombshell. After a sweet moment digging their forks into a catastrophe of a birthday cake, Tricia (Mary Catherine Garrison) lets slip that she and Sam’s late sister Holly was diagnosed with cancer a year before she told Sam. She worried Sam couldn’t handle it, which Sam then all but confirms when she takes her anger out on Tricia and runs away.
Then there’s Joel (Jeff Hiller), her best friend who hid his new relationship with Brad (Tim Bagley) from Sam for the same reason. It’s only after she inadvertently learns the news that he comes clean in a devastating scene that ends with Sam kicking him out of her house. She’s already resigned herself to something she’s familiar with: pushing people away.
“There is a shame in knowing that everybody in your life doesn’t think you can handle the reality of their lives, so they protect you from their hard stuff,” says Lennon Parham, who makes her “Somebody Somewhere” directing debut with the episode.
Ahead of the final two episodes of the season, Variety spoke with Everett and Parham (who also directs next week’s penultimate episode) about understanding Sam’s pain, letting the big moments breathe and why the return of the beloved car scene between Sam and Joel almost didn’t happen.
This season, Sam has found stability in many of her relationships, even if there have been a few cracks along the way, like her singing lesson breakdown. Was it all setting the stage for this moment when she pushes away those closest to her?
Bridget Everett: I think the intention was to see Sam and Joel in a bubble this season. She has really stepped back into life as much as she can from being as shut down as she was in Season 1. We don’t move at a very fast clip on this show, and so it kind of takes awhile to rev up to this moment and what is going to be a big fallout for Sam and the people around her. As we talked about it in the writers’ room, we came to see Episode 5 as when the zit was ready to pop.
Lennon, considering this was your first episode as director, what was it like stepping into this show as that subtle tension was coming to a head?
Lennon Parham: All of the elements that you find in this episode were all throughout Season 1, so I felt like I had a point of view for how the show would address it. It is so grounded and utterly human. I mean, Sam really gets walloped in this episode, because she is betrayed by a person she can’t be mad at anymore because they are gone, and betrayed by Tricia, with whom she is building back up the space for their relationship, which felt really special to me. If that stuff hadn’t happened, would she have handled the Joel stuff differently? I don’t know. He was withholding it from her because he knew it would be hard for her, and that’s life. It doesn’t happen the way you want it to happen. I just really wanted to honor that. And Bridget also comes ready to rock. I just had to let her know where we were, because we were shooting things out of order, and then just get out of her way.
The episode, while still funny, is really devastating because it shows Sam’s relationships better than they’ve ever been, only to implode them minutes later. How did you reconcile what we know about this character with what happens in this episode?
Everett: There was a time when I could relate to Sam, in that feeling that one person has betrayed me so they are all going to betray me. She has such a fragile ecosystem. If one thing goes off, she can’t handle it because she doesn’t have the tools. I understand that, I have compassion for that. Is it the way I would react now? No! But I think Lennon hit on something really important, because she is mad at somebody she can’t really be mad at. The way that manifests with the people who are there, it feels very human to me. Maybe not mature, but human. The loss of her sister has left this big valley, and if she gets too close, it’s easy for her to backslide.
Parham: In the next episode, you will hear her talk about it. There is a shame in knowing that everybody in your life doesn’t think you can handle the reality of their lives, so they protect you from their hard stuff. That would feel embarrassing and shameful. But as Tricia says, “This is what you do, you shut people out.” And then Sam does that. It makes total sense to me for Sam.
You two worked together on a Netflix show called “Lady Dynamite.” Did having that experience help when you really start to dig into the ups and downs of this episode?
Everett: I was very green to TV acting on “Lady Dynamite,” and Lennon was such a nurturing presence. Through the hand holding and the sobs. Any question I had, she always answered, and was just so generous. It made all the difference in the world, because that was a big job for me. You remember those things, you know?
I imagine that comes in handy with something like the wordless scene after Sam learns about her sister’s lie. She just silently settles into that pain in her sister’s house. Can you talk about how you worked through that moment in front of and behind the camera?
Everett: I can speak specifically to Lennon’s touch on the episode. For the two episodes she directed, Episode 5 and 6, she was so prepared. So thoughtful of me and [creators and writers] Paul Thureen and Hannah Bos, and [producer] Carolyn Strauss, and how we like to do things. But she was also ready to go with her own thoughts and ideas. That gave me a lot of confidence. It goes back to that comforting thing that was so welcome on “Lady Dynamite.” For these episodes specifically, it felt nice to have a feminine energy behind the camera. It felt like I was protected and safe, and Lennon was walking through it with me. It just took everything away. Hats off to Lennon. I love our other directors, but for these episodes specifically, it was really nice to have that symbiotic pussy power, I guess. I don’t want to undercut it with that, but it’s true!
Parham: And I’m over here crying because I was, like, overprepared! I wanted to make sure they felt like what they had written was being respected. We never talked about this, Bridget, but I felt like it was my job in these two episodes to make you feel safe to go wherever you needed to go. And she wrote me an email afterward that used those words. I will be framing it, because it made me cry! I just feel this show so deeply, and I feel protective of Bridget and the show. I know what it is like to put a baby out into the world in the form of a television show, and I just wanted to make sure it was what she wanted, and she was proud of it. She always has access to what’s right under the surface, especially in this scene. We kept saying behind the monitors, “She’s really dialed in.”
The episode isn’t all heavy moments. It also features the return of the fan-favorite car scene between Sam and Joel. And this one even includes a musical moment with Sam singing “Gloria” by Laura Branigan. What was it like to be back in the car with these two?
Everett: The scenes with Joel are the ones where I know we are going to be OK. Their love story is the heart of the show, and seeing them in the car is really the best of them. It is just easy. It was like 104 degrees that day! It was fucking hot, and not everyone was feeling like their best selves that day. But when you get into that environment, it is just fun.
Parham: It was originally a walk and talk…
Everett: Yes! That’s right!
Parham: …which echoes back to their walk and talks on Main Street. But we were trying to connect it to the tailor shop, and we had to shoot it on a certain day, and we couldn’t find a place for them to walk. Then Hannah or Paul just said, “Let’s do the car.” There were so many of those when they were stalking Rick in Season 1. It was just really fun when they were talking about whatever. They can also just improvise. It’s scripted, but both of them are amazing improvisers. The whole “shake it” thing was all them.
To start with the car and end with the silence between them, it’s jarring for this show. You said you are comfortable in those scenes with Sam and Joel, so was this hard as she pushes him away?
Everett: Oh, yeah. I was living with Jeff during filming, and we were at base camp after we shot that scene. He’s such a sweet person, and came out of his dressing room and just said, “Are you mad at me?” I just smiled because it was the scene. But it feels so personal for us. We have a really good connection. When we shoot those scenes, it’s easier not to talk between them and we aren’t hanging out. I needed to sit at the table and wait for him to come in, and think about how Sam would feel. Everything I do is guts first, and then if it doesn’t work they let me know and we try something else.
Lennon, you don’t cut the scene after he leaves. When the credits roll, you can just hear her eating in her kitchen.
Parham: It felt uncomfortable. It was really hard, and I bet it felt hard for Bridget. Sam is shut down, there is no breaking through that. It was so heartbreaking, because Jeff and his beautiful performance is just trying to make it right. That’s the instinct, but she was not available for that.
We would roll on the end of a lot of scenes to let it breathe, and you never know when you’re going to use it. I really love the way they chose to keep that silence before the music kicks in a little later. But also the actor’s choice on Bridget’s part to just push the hashbrowns with her fork when he’s standing there, and then the minute he’s gone, just start eating her egg benny, which has to be cold by now.
Everett: That way of dealing with it felt very Midwestern with my own family. Just cut off. Like Lennon said, we do like to let the camera just go. Those are the moments that feel unique to “Somebody Somewhere.” It just lets it live a little bit.
It’s a devastating place to leave this relationship in. What can you say about where Sam goes in the final two episodes of the season?
Everett: It is just a question of whether Sam is going to get out of her own way and rise to the occasion. You see at the end of the episode how easy it is for her to slip back into isolation and home-alone mode. But she has this thumbprint from Joel on her heart. He has made changes in her. Even though he is the one who has hurt her, he could be the reason she works her way out of this.
Parham: Thumbprint on her heart? I mean, c’mon! How beautifully said is that?
There is a firm rule set in this episode by Sam. “No Barbra, no Judy, no Branigan.” But Sam does sing Branigan in the car. So can we expect you to break out some Streisand and Garland soon?
Everett: Never! Never! Branigan was hard enough. My God, that song is fucking hard to sing. The reason I said that line, which was an improv, I think I just did it to make Jeff and Lennon laugh. I was literally just having fun, but sometimes that’s the best stuff we do.
Parham: It worked!
This interview has been edited and condensed.