June 28, 2023.
This review contains spoilers. Thank you to the trans man who recommended this show to me!
Fred Rococo in episode 1.
Fred Rococo is introduced in episode 1 as the emcee of a church “choir practice”, which is actually largely a gathering of LGBT+ people, sharing stories and singing and doing spoken word acts. Sam, the protagonist, is invited there by her friend Joel, who also encourages her to sing onstage. Fred is an enigmatic, smooth, well-dressed guy, played by Murray Hill. Hill is a comedian and trans pioneer of drag king performances, and I'm so glad he was included in this series.
I'll be honest... I cried at the end of the first episode, which is not a common occurrence for me! Having experienced discrimination and isolation in my hometown, Sam and Joel's song about not giving up really left an impact. And I'm not alone in recognising the profound emotion and brilliant quality of this show; the first season has a 100% approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes, and a 92% average audience score. Even aside from the trans inclusivity, this is an awesome show.
Fred smiling at a waiter.
In S01E02, Sam attends brunch with her new friends. Fred is among the group. When a visibly anxious waiter approaches the table, asking how the meal was, Fred confirms that it was good. "Thank you, sir," the waiter says, hurriedly correcting himself and instead saying, "ma'am."
"Hey, you got it right the first time," Fred responds with a smile. At the end of the meal, after Fred has left, Sam notes aloud that Fred is a very good tipper. Joel agrees and says, "Especially for waiters who feel uncomfortable."
This is a very sweet, understated moment. In Fred, Hill brings to life an older trans guy who has decided not to transition medically (as discussed by Hill IRL) and lives his life as his most authentic self. He understands that sometimes strangers will perceive his gender incorrectly, but that doesn't stop him being who he is. When the waiter next appears, in season 2, he refers to Fred correctly, as "sir".
Fred with his friends in Fred's Poker Palace.
One reason I love Fred is that he feels real, like a guy I might encounter at a local trans gathering. He's wise, funny, and self-assured. When Joel references a song, saying, "put your dick away," apropos of nothing, Fred replies, "I already did, it's under the sink," without missing a beat. This quick, blink-and-you'll-miss-it reference to packing is exactly the type of joke I've heard made by my FTM and transmasculine friends.
Fred and Ed.
Fred is also a Professor who specialises in agricultural sciences, and intervenes with his students to help Sam's father (Ed), whose farm is struggling financially. Ed is also struggling personally and refuses to confide in anybody, including his daughters. In a beautiful scene, he tells Fred that he finds it very difficult to work through emotional issues, and he doesn't know how to talk to people. Fred is supportive of him and, when he pats Ed on the arm, Ed reacts with surprise at being treated in such a way. It's a gentle, simple, very tender portrait of solidarity between men and the masculine-identified, which emphasises that men need support too.
While at his own wedding, Fred toasts Ed:
"I'd like to say a few words about our host, who's not here. About a year ago, Sam asked me to come out on the farm to help her out. And, from the moment I walked in, I felt such a deep connection with Ed. Y'know, we were just two guys who shared a love of the land. It wasn't about him accepting me. It wasn't about being nice. He just saw me. That's a rare thing, no matter where I am. So, if he were here today, my friend Ed would be my best man. So, raise your glasses, everybody. Raise' em high!"
I so appreciated Somebody Somewhere for treating a masculine cis man as the source of such connectedness and friendship, because I have found such blokes to be some of the most kind, calm people when it comes to my own identity. And, when they open up and seek comfort, it feels like a privilege to be the person they turn to.
Susan and Fred.
Fred keeps his fiancé, Susuan, a secret from his friends until season 2, when she is invited to join their poker night.
"It's always been Fred, for me," she explains, "He didn't want me to hide, so I had to come out to my dad. I said, I'm dating someone who is important to me. He's trans, and I want you to know." It's established that, prior to Fred, she dated numerous men.
Somebody Somewhere is set in a conservative area where many townspeople view LGBT+ identities as sinful, so it makes sense that Susan might have to 'come out' as a woman in a relationship with a trans guy (even if she's heterosexual), especially since that trans guy is not medically transitioning and therefore has less opportunity to live low-disclosure. Interpreted that way, her comments reflect a determination to be respected as a woman who loves as trans guy, and a determination to ensure Fred's gender is respected.
Fred and Susan getting married.
What Somebody Somewhere offers, perhaps most importantly, is a trans guy getting his happy ending. Fred is middle-aged, he's qualified and employed as a Professor, he has friends who love and respect him, and we get to watch as he settles down with a woman who is attracted to him. This show isn't about early-transition conflict or angst, and doesn't centre on the experiences of trans youth. Fred shows trans male viewers that something comes next, that life continues once you're no longer freshly out of the closet and trying to navigate the earliest stages of your transition. That is hugely important. We need more older trans guys in films and shows!
Susan's dad, tearing up.
Fred mentions that Susan's family might not attend the wedding. Wonderfully, Susan addresses the crowd after the ceremony, saying, "Thanks, dad. I, um… It means a lot, that you’re here.”
Fred after the ceremony.
Fred is utterly delighted to be married to Susan. When she refers to him as "my husband", he excitedly says, "That's me! That's me! That's the first time she said it. It's real! And she's my wife!" It's so fantastic.
You can watch Murray Hill being interviewed below:
The show overall explores heavy and serious themes, often in lighthearted ways. Sam herself experiences depression following the death of her sister, and works to overcome social anxiety, low self-esteem, and hopelessness. While the subject matter in Somebody Somewhere can be sad, it's never sad to the point that it's unwatchable (in my opinion). Humour, brilliant acting, and solidarity between misfit characters makes for a touching series.
The show also deals with the following:
Bullying and humiliation.
Possessiveness and jealousy in a friendship.
Persistent insults and put-downs directed at Sam, usually by her female family members.
A mother being cruel and aggressive towards her children.
Alcohol Use Disorder leading to aggression, denial, rehab, family dysfunction, and the physical endangerment of family members.
Trauma from negative school experiences.
The impact of a stroke on a family.
Homophobia and lesbophobia.
Bigotry under the guise of religion.
Body image issues.
There is also crude and vulgar humour that might be uncomfortable (depending on your standards), especially in season 2.