November 6, 2007 | Comments ()

By Dustin Rowles | Trade News | November 6, 2007 |


I guess the thing that absolutely blew my mind about “Samantha Who?” — the top-rated new comedy of the season (which is akin to being valedictorian of a special-needs class) — is that I didn’t detest it. I mean, it’s pretty godawful, but in a sitcom beauty contest with a show like “Caveman,” this gimpy, acne-addled, thigh-bruised, mascara-heavy harlot of a program wins in a laugher. In fact, if I were on a cross-Atlantic flight and I’d finished whatever book I was reading and my laptop batteries had died, if Aer Lingus (the dirtiest sounding airline on the planet) attached “Samantho Who?” episodes to the end of a shitty movie, I’d probably choose watching it over reading the in-flight magazine (assuming the magazine didn’t have a profile on an awesome celebrity like Donnie Osmond or Cheri Oteri). That’s about as high praise as I can muster for it. That I watched all four previously aired episodes in succession, however, raises questions about the degenerating effects it has on the human brain — I was rendered incapable of remote-control function until the last flicker faded and I was left in a puddle of my own drool.

“Samantha Who?” stars Christina Applegate as Samantha, a woman who wakes up after an eight-day coma with amnesia, a contrivance that’s been used during countless sweeps months, in innumerable movies, on every single soap opera that has ever existed, but this may be the first time an entire sitcom revolves around it. (I’m also guessing that the writer’s strike has actually been a blessing to the “Samantha Who?” scribes, who’d likely run out of episode ideas soon, anyway.) Samantha discovers that, in her former life, she was something of an insufferable bitch, a corporate maniacal Nazi, boozehound, and straight-up philandering slut. Expectedly, these revelations about her former self are disconcerting to the new, amnesiac Samantha, who has exchanged her long hair for short, and her promiscuity for ignorant ditz.

When Samantha wakes up, her parents — played with reasonable √©lan by Kevin Dunn and Jean Smart — decide to take her home, though it’s not too long before Samantha’s best friend and skanky confidante, Andrea (Jennifer Espisito), informs Samantha that she’s not talked to her parents for over two years (the reasons, I suspect, will be saved for a later episode). Additionally, Samantha’s loserish best friend from 7th grade, Dena (Mellissa McCarthy), also decides to take advantage of the situation to reintroduce herself in Samantha’s new life. Meanwhile, Barry Watson (“What about Brian”) rounds out the cast as Samantha’s ex-boyfriend, who broke up with her right before her accident, an act that may or may not have precipitated the injury (again, something the writer’s are probably saving for a future episode).

Contrivance and characters in place, the gist of “Samantha Who?” is that, in each episode, she attempts to reconcile her new self with what she discovers about her old self, not unlike Harrison Ford’s turn in the equally mediocre Regarding Henry. The same jokes are not only rehashed from other sitcoms, but also from previous episodes — in fact, in three of four episodes, for instance, Samantha’s parents speak louder in an attempt to rekindle Samantha’s memory (the joke that just keeps on giving) and, near the end of each episode, a thematically appropriate memory is recalled, setting about an epiphany that results in typically bland sitcom moralizing. All the while, she and her ex-boyfriend are in the midst of a very slow comedy-of-remarriage set on the small screen.

And yet, while the premise is absurd and the writing is atrocious, the comedy is not completely devoid of merit. The cast, an assemblage of familiar television actors and actresses, is pretty solid. Jean Smart has a credible take on Elizabeth Perkins’ role in “Weeds,” which Perkins herself stole from Smart in “Designing Women.” Mellissa McCarthy is delightfully unctuous; Jennifer Espisito is passable as the wiseacre whore; and even Barry Watson has toned down the sensitive Skeet Ulrichian shtick he pulled in “What About Brian.” But, really: The glue that very tenuously holds this shitbox together is Applegate. She’s, well, likable; more Veronica Corningstone than Kelly Bundy, though it is the latter character that gives rise to a modicum of nostalgic fondness [Mrs. Pajiba-hyphenate has mostly scraped “Married … with Children” from my memory (however, I keep fond recollections of the equally sexist “Three’s Company” in a secret compartment in my brain.)] Applegate and her cute little nose freckles is a decent facsimile of a Chrissy Snow/Rachel Greene hybrid, given a high-powered job, a moral consciousness, and some of the worst lines on television.

All told, “Samantha Who?” is slightly more pleasant than a kick in the teeth. But, just barely.

Dustin Rowles is the publisher of Pajiba. He lives with his wife and son in Ithaca, New York. You may email him, or leave a comment below.

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Better Than a Kick in the Teeth!

"Samantha Who?" / Dustin Rowles

Trade News | November 6, 2007 | Comments ()



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