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Samantha Who?: The Complete First Season (2007-2008)

ABC Studios
DVD Released: 9/23/2008

All Ratings out of
Audio: 1/2
Extras: 1/2

Review by Mike Long, Posted on 9/17/2008

Most sitcoms can be considered ensemble pieces. While there are stars, the works is shared by a group of actors. For example, we all have a our favorite friend from Friends, and there were definitely storylines where certain characters were featured more than others, but in the end, the work was equal. But, there are certainly shows where one actor is asked to carry the show, despite the fact that they are surrounded by supporting actors. Tim Allen on Home Improvement or Zach Braff on Scrubs anchored a show full of great actors. In these situations, our acceptance of that central character can effect the quality of the entire show. Samantha Who? is a great example of this.

Samantha Who? introduces us to Samantha Newly (Christina Applegate), who has been hit by a car and is in a coma. She's being watched over by her mother, Regina (Jean Smart), and Howard (Kevin Dunn), her friends, Andrea (Jennifer Esposito) & Dena (Melissa McCarthy), and her boyfriend, Todd (Barry Watson). Samantha awakens, and she and her family learn that she has retrograde amnesia -- she has some general knowledge about the world and knows how to take care of herself, but she doesn't remember any of the details of her life. Not long after leaving the hospital, Samantha begins to realize that she hadn't been a very nice person -- she was self-centered, greedy, mean, and untrustworthy. Samantha is disgusted by this and is determined that she will now be different and that she must convince everyone that she's changed. Of course, this won't be easy. Andrea, who loved old Sam, is a back-stabbing gold-digger. Samantha soon learns that she and Dena hadn't been friends since middle school and that she was estranged from her parents. She also learns that she had been cheating on Todd before the accident. As Sam attempts to re-learn everything about herself and about life, she vows to be a better person and make amends with those who she's hurt.

While the basic premise of Samantha Who? isn't completely original (it plays like slapstick cross between Memento and My Name is Earl), the idea is certainly intriguing. When a show debuts, we normally get to know the characters. Here, we have a character who is getting to know herself just as we are. This leads to some funny moments, such as when Samantha tries to determine which kind of ice cream is her favorite, or when she realizes that she doesn't know what she does for a living. A great running joke from the show deals with the fact that Andrea is constantly saying, "You remember..." to Samantha, to which she must reply, "No, I don't." And just as we are being introducing to the other characters on the show, as is Samantha. She must learn about her parent's quirks, her relationship with Todd and Dena, and her peculiar friendship with Andrea.

Obviously, the show centers on Christina Applegate, and the viewers opinion of her is what will make or break Samantha Who?. This is an actress who made a name for herself as the airhead Kelly Bundy on Married...With Children. From there, she's appeared in TV shows and movies where she's done comedy, but she never looks as if she's very comfortable doing it. At times, she reminds me of Jennifer Aniston, while at other times, she reminds me of one of the Marx Brothers. Her timing with dialogue and reactions is good, and she can be an excellent straight man (as evidenced by her role in Anchorman). But, at times, she goes over the top and tries to hard to be "cute" and "spunky" with a dash of slapstick thrown in. These moments feel very awkward and don't fit the overall tone of the show. So, Applegate is the show's center-piece, but she goes off-course at times.

And while she's never in danger of ruining the show (she's never bad, just annoying at times), Samantha Who? is safe-and-sound with the talent around her. Jean Smart steals the show as Samantha's neurotic mother. She has many of the program's best lines and Smart has the goods to deliver her insane dialogue with truly believable sincerity. Melissa McCarthy, who was so good on Gilmore Girls brings a lot of energy to her role. Tim Russ kills in every scene in which he appears as Samantha's uptight doorman. The only weak link here is Jennifer Esposito. Her character is supposed to be grating and she plays the role far too well.

A sitcom about an amnesiac is a risky endeavor, but Samantha Who? handles the material well. While star Christina Applegate runs too hot-and-cold in the series, there are some truly funny moments here, and the journey with Samantha as she learns who she is is fun.

Samantha Who?: The Complete First Season forgets everything on DVD courtesy of ABC Studios (which is distributed by Disney). This two-disc set contains all 15 episodes from the show's first season. The episodes have been letterboxed at 1.78:1 and the transfer is enhanced for 16 x 9 TVs. The image here is quite sharp and clear, showing no grain and no defects from the source material. The colors are good, especially pastels, and the image is never overly dark or bright. There is no video noise to be had here, but the picture is a bit flat at times. In all, this rivals digital broadcast quality. The DVD carries a Dolby Digital 5.1 audio track which provides clear dialogue and sound effects. The track offers some occasional stereo effects, and the musical cues result in some surround sound action, but the audio sticks to the center channel for the most part.

The Samantha Who?: The Complete First Season DVD set contains only a few extras. Disc 1 features an AUDIO COMMENATRY on the episode "Pilot" with Christina Applegate and Executive Producers Donald Todd & Peter Traugott. Squeezed into the brief time-frame of the episode, the trio tries to share as much information as possible. They talk about locations, the actors, and moments which were changed or ad-libbed. Disc 2 kicks off with "Samantha Whoops?", a 1-minute bloopers reel. The DVD contains seven DELETED SCENES which can be viewed with optional intros from Executive Producer Donald Todd. Most of these scenes are quite short and the bulk of them are simply extended versions of scenes which made it into the show. There are no new characters or storylines here.

Review Copyright 2008 by Mike Long