There are few times in life when I’ve ever truly felt at peace, experiencing an equilibrium of bliss, comfort, and exhilaration. I felt that when my head was buried inside of Bridget Everett’s tits.
In New York City, Everett is renowned as one of downtown’s finest cabaret performers. Her shows at Joe’s Pub are the kind of immersive endeavors that would have the most buttoned-up among us fleeing the theater as if chased by Jason Voorhees in a slinky silk minidress. For others, it’s church—an ecclesiastical celebration of raunch, casting off inhibitions, and really, truly, carnally feeling things.
A talented singer with wanton stage presence whose comedic timing is wielded with surgical precision, Everett’s shows are a hybrid of intimate storytelling, safe-space construction, and then debauchery as she erupts into song.
These are songs in which she purrs, “What I gotta do to get that dick in my mouth?” while caressing audience members’ heads. Or “Titties,” in which she stalks through the lounge ad-libbing about the different kinds of personalities she could ascribe to the bosoms she passes. (“You got those baby-blue titties,” she winked at me, before shimmying up to my lap and forcing my face into her own décolletage.)
There’s a spark of magic that flickers around Everett as she does this. It’s not just crassness for the sake of shock. It’s transformative—the opportunity to feel unbridled, to access your secrets, your desires, and behave in a way you’d never allow yourself to in any other situation (and then maybe reflect on why that is). She’s a force, “larger than life,” as a wonderful profile on her in the recent New Yorker hails in its headline. And it’s why her performance in her new semi-autobiographical HBO series, launching Sunday, is such a revelation.
If you’re familiar with Everett’s cabaret work, you’ll be blown away by what you see in Somebody Somewhere, a profound and meditative—dare we even say quiet—series about a middle-aged woman who is back in her Kansas hometown following the death of her sister, wondering, maybe a few decades later than she should have, what the hell she is going to do with her life. And, maybe more terrifyingly, could she ever be happy.
Everett plays Sam, who is snarky and sarcastic in a way that puts off some members of her small-town Midwest family, but thrills others like her new friend Joel (Jeff Hiller), who works with her at the brain-numbing center where they grade standardized tests. But that humor isn’t a shield. It’s a complement to her warmth and compassion, her desire for the best for everyone that she loves, even if they can’t be bothered to do right by her in return.
Through Joel, who volunteers for a church, she finds a bit of salvation. He tells a white lie to the reverend, asking for church space for choir practice. Instead, he uses it to stage an open mic night, his own cabaret of sorts, where the town’s queer folk, artists, and anyone who feels lost and yearns to express themselves can commune and perform. He drags Sam there, and as she finds her voice on stage, the empowerment and satisfaction echoes through the other complicated areas of her life.
Especially in contrast to her cabaret persona, Everett is doing stirring, soft character work in this series. Even if you were among those who stanned hard for her breakthrough performance as a domineering, absent mother in the Sundance cult favorite Patti Cake$, you’d be surprised by how much she’s capable of as an actress. This is a series that takes its time to establish a sense of place, who these people are, and what they want from the world. But once you’re there and invested, you won’t want to leave.
Everett’s Sam is a character who, like so many of us, has work to do on herself. That often amounts to an impossible task; for some, there’s no summoning the required energy to overcome the inertia. Yet Sam does it. By the end of episode 3 when, with the light of an electric crucifix glowing behind her like a sacrilegious halo, she belts the final notes of “Piece of My Heart” and rips her V-neck T-shirt to reveal her bra and cleavage, you can see a person whose spirit has been transformed. So, too, has yours.