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On the superb HBO series ‘Somebody, Somewhere,’ a Kansas woman struggles to fit in

Insightful dialogue, engrossing story showcase a knockout starring performance by comedian Bridget Everett.

Joel (Jeff Hiller, right) remembers former classmate Sam (Bridget Everett), but she doesn’t remember him on “Somebody, Somewhere.”
HBO

This is your moment, Bridget Everett.

This is the perfect vehicle for you — a series sure to delight fans who know the great musical, comedic and dramatic work you’ve done onstage and in films such as “Trainwreck” and “Patti Cake$” and on TV shows such as “Inside Amy Schumer,” a vehicle we hope will also introduce a whole new audience to your considerable talents.

The HBO comedy/drama series “Somebody, Somewhere,” inspired by events from Everett’s own life, is a superb and instantly engrossing work, with Everett delivering a knockout performance as Sam, a smart, dryly funny, self-deprecating, cynical, insecure woman in her 40s who is struggling with grief, who has spent most of her adult life feeling as if she’s on the outside looking in, as if she doesn’t quite fit in anywhere and with anyone …

Until now.

Maybe.

We hope.

We might be nothing like Sam on the surface, yet we can relate to so much of what she’s going through, thanks to Everett’s grounded, quietly powerful performance, the naturalistic and cuttingly insightful dialogue from writers Hannah Bos and Paul Thureen (the show’s creators) and Patricia Breen, and the suitably low-key and effective directing work by Jay Duplass and Robert Cohen.

With Chicago suburbs including Lockport and Warrenville subbing for small-city Kansas and with a supporting cast brimming with Chicago-connected talents such as Mike Hagerty, Danny McCarthy, Brian King and Jon Hudson Odom, “Somebody, Somewhere” opens with Everett’s Sam breaking down while at her soul-crushing job at a test grading center. As she explains to her co-worker Joel (Jeff Hiller), an essay she was grading reminded Sam of her sister, who passed away just six months earlier. Joel is comforting and lovely and says, “I’m so sorry about Holly, she was a few years ahead of us, right?”

Sam doesn’t remember Joel. Turns out she was a pretty big deal in high school, while Joel ... wasn’t. “We were in show choir together,” says Joel, and Sam says, “I knew I recognized you!” and Joel says, “No, you didn’t. … It’s all good, a lot of people don’t remember me,” and we know this is going to be the beginning of a beautiful friendship.

The premiere episode deftly weaves in a number of key characters and jump-starts multiple storylines. We meet Sam’s tightly wound sister Tricia (Mary Catherine Garrison), who resents Sam for a myriad of reasons; Tricia’s husband Rick (Danny McCarthy), who is addicted to video games and has a burner phone and is up to something suspicious; Sam’s niece Shannon (Kailey Albus), who actually thinks Sam is pretty cool, and Sam’s parents, Ed (Mike Hagerty) and Mary Jo (Jane Brody), who are struggling, as Ed is becoming too old to run the family farm and Mary Jo is an alcoholic whose actions are becoming alarming.

There’s a lot of tension but also a good deal of love within this family dynamic, with Sam often finding herself in the crosshairs and unsure of what to say or how to say it. (But when Sam finds her footing, as when she unloads on her mother, she’s a force.) “Somebody, Somewhere” is filled with moments of crackling good dialogue, as when a sullen Sam reluctantly agrees to help Tricia with an event for Tricia’s boutique and her sister sarcastically cracks, “Please bring EXACTLY that spirit,” or when Tricia’s best friend Charity (Heidi Johanningmeier) says things are looking up for Sam what with her job and a potential boyfriend and maybe Sam should think about hitting the gym, and Sam walks away saying what we’re thinking, which is, “F--- you Charity.”

We ARE in Kansas, and there are a number of “Wizard of Oz” references sprinkled into a number of episodes, a tornado-level storm, a small dog and a certain decorating scheme in Tricia’s boutique. The production design is spot-on, whether the series is capturing the bleakness of Sam’s workplace with its sickly green walls, the gorgeous crops and blue skies, the plethora of churches within walking distance of one another, or the quaint (but not condescendingly kitschy) charms of the downtown district. We feel as if these people really live here, work here, struggle here, love here.

Our heart aches for Sam when she confesses to the bighearted Joel, “I don’t know if I’m really friend material.” Sam knows she’s a disappointment, mostly to herself, but there are glimpses of the burning spirit and great capacity for joy she has hidden within — a light that shines when Sam takes the stage at a weekly gathering of independent souls that has been dubbed “Choir Practice,” and she fills the room with her gorgeous, robust, stirring takes on songs such as Peter Gabriel’s “Don’t Give Up” and Janis Joplin’s “Piece of My Heart.” For those three or four minutes, Sam is in total command of her destiny, and it’s a beautiful thing to behold.