Sometimes Bridget Everett, the actress, comedian and self-proclaimed "cabaret wildebeest," wonders what would have happened if she had never left Kansas. She has a pretty good idea.
"I'd probably live in Kansas City, or Lawrence," said the star of "Somebody Somewhere," a wistful Kansas-set half-hour comedy on HBO. "I would probably work in a restaurant and have two DUIs and sit on the couch a lot in my underwear."
Everett, 49, plays Sam, a woman whose biography parallels her own, to a point. After years of bartending in a big city, Sam has returned to her hometown. She has a soul-eating job at an educational testing center and various family obligations — a father (Mike Hagerty) with a struggling farm, a mother (Jane Brody) with addiction issues, and a sister (Mary Catherine Garrison) with a wobbly marriage and an Instagrammable approach to evangelical Christianity. Sam sits on the couch a lot in her underwear.
Then she meets Joel (Jeff Hiller), another testing center employee, who remembers her from her high school-choir glory days. He introduces her to a band of outsiders and misfits who meet weekly for what they call "choir practice," a joyful open mic night in an abandoned mall. And slowly, Sam begins to bloom.
For those who have experienced Everett onstage — in plunging dresses and with an approach to crowd work that violates most decency clauses — her presence as Sam will come as a surprise. She sings in only some of the episodes. Her wardrobe leans toward flannel. She sits on no one's face.
"If you're used to seeing the wildebeest onstage, you're going to be like, 'Where is she?'" Everett said of her work on the show. "But I hope that people can settle into the sort of softer side of Bridget."
"I also think they're going to be shocked to see me in a bra," she added. "That's really going to rattle some people."
Unhurried in its pacing, gentle in its tone and generally sympathetic to the vagaries of human behavior, "Somebody Somewhere" is not necessarily the show you might expect from pairing Everett with its creators Hannah Bos and Paul Thureen, founders of the avant-garde theater collective the Debate Society.
But each has strong roots in the Midwest — Everett in Manhattan, Kan., where the show is set; Bos in Evanston, Ill.; and Thureen in East Grand Forks, Minn. Which may explain why the producer Carolyn Strauss connected them.
"That's how she found us," Thureen joked. "She was like, 'Oh, they're Midwestern.'"
Strauss wanted a project that traded on more than Everett's outrageousness. She also wanted to acknowledge the shyer, more guarded woman that she is in her offstage life.
"There's many different sides to her," said Strauss, an executive producer on the series. "There's just something about Bridget that really connects to all the parts of people — the good parts, the bad parts, the wounded parts, the healed-over parts."
With this prompt, Bos and Thureen, writing partners who have worked on "High Maintenance" and "Mozart in the Jungle," pitched a show that drew on Everett's real life — Kansas upbringing, unholy pipes, a mother who drinks, a sister who died young — and then imagined how this woman might express herself in a place that didn't seem to welcome her heart or her gifts.
"They threw in the dead sister, and I was sold," Everett said.