Samantha Who? - The Complete First Season Review

I do not like this Samantha Who?

I do not wish to see it through

I would not, could not buy this new

I would not, could not tell you to

Perhaps that's a bit harsh, as Samantha Who? does improve after a shaky start, but there are still plenty of problematic aspects to the show. Not the least of which is that it's constantly in transition and, thus, unsure about how it wants to present the title character. Played semi-charmingly by Christina Applegate, Samantha Newly is a stealthy career woman suffering the effects of retrograde amnesia after being hit by a car. When the pilot begins, Sam is still in the hospital, just awakening from an 8-day coma despite seemingly no superficial wounds of any type. The 8-day thing is tricky because the show's writers must have wanted to have a period of time short enough to allow her to return to work without much fuss (shrugged off as a stint in rehab), yet still having plenty of room for new ex-boyfriend Todd to not really mourn the relationship. Indeed, it turns out that Todd (played with no charisma or charm by Barry Watson), a character the viewer is apparently supposed to want Sam to reconnect with, has no problem hooking up with a girl just days afterwards and finding a new serious girlfriend shortly after that. Oh, and the nice Chicago apartment he lives in? That's Sam's, but she continues to let him live there while she's in the suburbs with her nutty parents.

Ahh, sitcoms. Every so often, at least once a year now, I read yet another obituary of the traditional half-hour sitcom written by someone actually paid to watch television and then complain about it. Most of these pieces seem shortsighted to the point of not recognising that it's our increasingly cynical, profane, and sarcastic society that's largely been responsible for not just the lack of good comedy shows on television, but the dearth of quality humour in a number of media. The few American sitcoms still worth watching tend to step away from the traditional elements. For instance, I can't imagine enjoying any current series that employs a laugh track nowadays, much less the incredibly obnoxious ones often used. To its credit, Samantha Who? avoids the laugh track, but the usual sitcom tropes of comforting sweetness and fun with wacky characters are both present and accounted for.

When Sam moves back home to live with her parents, the audience is treated to all the crazy hijinks that can be fit into Jean Smart's Emmy-winning performance. It veers into precious territory at times, but the larger annoyance is how often the same basic jokes are repeated over and over. Prior to Samantha's accident, she was vindicative, cold and completely selfish, inspiring the post-coma version to refer to her old self as "Bad Sam." Most episodes then consist of the kinder, gentler Sam realising how lousy of a person she was and trying to suppress the tendency to bring back Bad Sam. There's usually a flashback to illustrate that Sam was a bit of an evil genius and that she had party girl straight hair instead of her current lovable curls. Her best friend Andrea (Jennifer Esposito) figures into both of the Sams, first as an accomplice and then a would-be accomplice. I guess we're supposed to believe Sam still hangs out with her because of loyalty, but it doesn't make a lot of sense. Andrea is groomed to be like Sam was before the accident so if she's trying to leave her old ways behind, why does Sam still keep Andrea as her best friend?

As though intent on balancing out Andrea's negatives, a third friend, Dena, is added to the dynamic. Dena (Melissa McCarthy) had been Sam's childhood best friend before getting ditched in favour of a more popular crowd. She heard about the accident and staked out the hospital room until Samantha regained consciousness. Yes, I do agree that's creepy. Nothing says let's spend half an hour each week with these people like a pathetic, borderline stalker, an entirely loathsome superficial, and a woman who seems to be reliving her teenage years because she was in a coma for eight days. Add to that how much Dena fits the cheery, but secretly sad type so often shoved onto overweight female characters and the little charms Samantha Who? occasionally shares become less and less ingratiating.

Even the show's two strongest points, Applegate's performance and the presence of Tim Russ as doorman Frank, are not without some reservations. Russ is entertaining enough and he's more than necessary as someone who can humble Sam, but the character plays like it was written for Morgan Freeman. Like the other parts, it's one-note and unoriginal. The least cliched role, even despite the very convenient amnesia plot device, would be Samantha, but she still faces down mostly boring situations. Voiceover narration keeps the character mired in mediocrity. Post-coma Sam isn't that likable either, mostly because she's entirely self-absorbed. She reminded me of Jennifer Aniston's Rachel on Friends - someone who the viewer is supposed to care about despite her having few redeeming or sympathetic qualities. It's never Applegate's fault, though. She plays it a bit too cutesy at times, but it's an otherwise winning performance in a show that's just okay. And mostly for diversionary purposes.

The Discs

All fifteen episodes of Samantha Who?'s inaugural season come to R1 DVD from Walt Disney Home Entertainment. The two-disc set is packaged in a keepcase, with slipcover, and includes a little eight-page booklet inside. The insert is entitled "The Good & Bad of Love, Life & Career" and is drawn up like a fake advice brochure written by the characters in the show. An episode list can be found on the back of the booklet.

Image quality is fairly good, but more ho-hum than exciting. The show is presented in 1.78:1 and enhanced for widescreen televisions. It has been transferred progressively and looks entirely clean. As expected, no damage or marks of any sort are visible. Colours are adequate and nicely displayed, with some light grain. The only possible complaint is perhaps detail that's a little soft. An excellent transfer overall.

An English Dolby Digital 5.1 track consists mainly of dialogue and the occasional song, reproduced without fail on the DVD. The speakers are likely to get noticed most with the little transitional jingles favoured especially in the earlier episodes. I always find these distracting and unnecessary, but they do work as a reminder to surround sound owners. Subtitles are yellow in colour and provided in English for the hearing impaired, French, and Spanish. A French dub is advertised on the back of the case, but not included.

Slim and perfunctory extra features. An audio commentary featuring Christina Applegate and executive producers Donald Todd and Peter Traugott can be found on the pilot episode. It's a nice, talkative track that expectedly discusses some of the basic information of the series. The commentary is also subtitled. Disc two has a collection of deleted scenes (5:57) and a short blooper reel entitled "Samantha Whoops?" (1:09), plus the usual Disney "Sneak Peeks." The seven deleted scenes can be played with brief video introductions from executive producer Donald Todd explaining why they were cut.

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