Judge Brett Cullum professes his love of Christina Applegate...yet again!
Our review of Samantha Who? The Complete Second Season, published September 2nd, 2009, is also available.
Prepare for the ultimate identity crisis.
Christina Applegate is still one of the best comedic actresses around, years after she made her pop culture mark as bad girl Kelly Bundy during 257 episodes of Married With Children. She's obviously no stranger to sitcoms, so it wasn't surprising to see ABC give her a slot for her own show right after Dancing With the Stars. Samantha Who? got great ratings for the first half of its run, outranking even Two and a Half Men in popularity early on. Later in the season the ratings began to decline once the writers strike made new episodes harder to find and less frequent. Samantha Who: The Complete First Season gathers together the first year's 15 episodes and offers a smattering of extras to go along with them.
Facts of the Case
Samantha Who? is about a girl who wakes up from a coma with retrograde amnesia. She begins to realize that before a car accident, Samantha Newly was a horrible person who was manipulative, slutty, materialistic, and at odds with her friends and family. The girl decides to make amends for past sins and sets out to reclaim her life by being a better Sam this time around. Problem is she doesn't know anything anymore, and yet her past comes in and out during flashbacks.
The beauty of Samantha Who? is it plays perfectly on the idea of Christina Applegate trying to reinvent herself as an actress away from the Kelly Bundy legacy. When we see "New Sam," she's likable and warm, and "Old Sam" is basically Kelly looking back in the mirror at the person who has grown past her. Applegate embraces playing both sides of her character and shows off her excellent physical comedy skills. Every show needs a solid star, and Christina is the capable comedic center of the show.
The supporting cast is excellent too, with familiar faces filling out the ranks. Jennifer Esposito (Crash) makes a real splash as Sam's best friend pre-coma, and she's trying to get the old Sam back. Her acid tongue and sarcastic takes provide tons of the show's laughs. Melissa McCarthy (Gilmore Girls) is the sweet friend from Junior High who is there because she has been forgotten by "Bad Sam." She provides the innocence and light. Barry Watson (What About Brian) plays Todd, the pre-coma boyfriend who is not sure what to make of "New Sam," especially when "Bad Sam" played him like a pro. Tim Russ (Star Trek: Voyager) is the dry doorman at Sam's chic Chicago condo building. Jean Smart (Designing Women) rounds everything out as Sam's mother, who tries to take care of her best she can. This is a great group of comedy talents, and what makes the show work so well is we can like and laugh at everyone.
The challenge of the show is that the high concept retrograde amnesia bit is only going to work for so long. In 15 episodes, it's easy to keep the gag running, but I wonder, where can Samantha Who? go if it stays on the air four or five seasons? Amazingly each episode contains a lot of plot for a half hour sitcom, and it's nice they are mostly self-contained story lines dealing with one aspect at a time. It does remind me a bit of My Name Is Earl with the "let's set things right" idea of Samantha making up for past sins, but it's also charming to see this played out with a female character. I wouldn't call it deep or too truthful, but as sitcoms go it does ask questions about the struggle to be a better person.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
The DVD set Samantha Who: The Complete First Season isn't a great one considering we only get half a season thanks to that writers strike. Extras for this set are not all that impressive, and it bucks the trend of series offering more to make up for the abbreviated runs from 2007 and 2008. The sole commentary is for the pilot episode and has Christina Applegate, co-creator Donald Todd, and executive producer Peter Traugott talking about the concept and creation of the series. It's a fun listen, but it leaves you wanting more at only 20 minutes. The blooper reel is merely 60 seconds of people laughing during takes. We also get a handful of deleted scenes with optional introduction from Donald Todd that never add anything storywise and were just "cut for time" gags that never worked. In total the extras amount up to little, and I can't say there's enough to make it a must-have for exploring the series. Samantha Who? is broadcast in HD, so there are no problems with transfers or sound. The widescreen image looks great, and no compression artifacts pop up or any issues with color and black levels. The surround sound is not busy, but does make the Chicago city setting come alive in certain sequences.
There's a real joy in seeing Christina Applegate back in a sitcom, and this one reinvents her as a nice well-meaning 30-something who wants to make something more of her life if she can just remember how. Fans of Kelly Bundy get glimpses of her whenever "Bad Sam" shows up in flashbacks, but for the most part the series relies on Applegate's skill with verbal and physical comedy. She's supported by a great cast which makes the show a fun watch, particularly any scene that involves her drunken gal pal Andrea. The plot runs the risk of losing steam, but Samantha Who? is a delicious trifle of a show that entertains easily. Too bad Samantha Who: The Complete First Season only offers us 15 episodes without much else to back them up. But at least we get a good commentary for the pilot as well as technically well executed transfers. All in all this one is worth checking out for the great cast and silly fun they get into.
Guilty of being a nice sunny sitcom starring a good comedienne, Samantha Who? is free to go on forgetting how to be bad.
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