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Thanks to cast, ‘Samantha Who?’ is worth figuring out

Caitlin Ferraro | Wednesday, November 14, 2007

The highest rated new comedy of the season, “Samantha Who?” centers on a woman who suffers from retrograde amnesia. The show is definitely worth remembering.

The premise is simple, yet unoriginal: A girl named Samantha (Christina Applegate) wakes up after an eight-day coma with amnesia, only to discover she was a horrible person.

The comedy had its own identity issues from its beginning, when due to copyright concerns (from Dr. Seuss’ estate) it had to change its name from “Sam I Am” to “Samantha Be Good,” before finally settling on “Samantha Who?”

The Emmy-winning Applegate masterfully portrays the titular character, Samantha Newly. Applegate has not been this good since her 10-year embodiment of trashy Kelly Bundy on “Married … with Children.” This show is her comeback as she shines as a funny, charming and chic leading lady.

The cast of actors surrounding Applegate is superb as well. After waking up, Sam discovers she has unstable relationships with all those around her. Seasoned comedic actors Jean Smart and Kevin Dunn, who form a dynamic duo, play the parents to whom Sam has not spoken in two years. When Samantha first wakes up, her mother (Smart) is disappointed because it interrupts her video entry for “Extreme Home Makeover.” The only other two people who go to the hospital are Sam’s boyfriend, Todd (the adorable Barry Watson), and Sam’s quirky junior high best friend, Dena (Melissa McCarthy of “Gilmore Girls” fame). It turns out Sam is cheating on Todd and ditched Dena in high school to be popular. All this while Sam’s supposed best friend, raging alcoholic Andrea (Jennifer Esposito), could not be happier that Sam has forgotten she was a recovering alcoholic herself. Suffice it to say hijinks ensue.

Everything about this show is so very wrong, yet the train wreck of insane events feel real and are laugh-out-loud hilarious thanks to the talented cast. Esposito could teach Paris Hilton the meaning of narcissism as she tempts Samantha to rejoin her on the dark side.

Potential quibbles with the show are few and far between. From time to time, Samantha has flashes of her former horrible self and she endeavors to make changes in her life. Sometimes these glimpses of Sam’s past are not particularly comical or necessary. While directors depict evil Sam incurring wrath upon those around her (and often Applegate with a different hairstyle), they do not always directly contribute to the show.

Following in the thematic pursuit of “My Name is Earl,” Samantha aims to turn over a new leaf and be a better person. But “Samantha Who?” has yet to perfect the format. The episodes sometimes seem a bit frantic and can jump around at times.

Some of Sam’s deep philosophical conversations with Todd’s apartment doorman Frank (Tim Russ) border on ridiculousness, but most are great fun. In the episode entitled “The Job,” Sam consults Frank on her outfit. He responds: “Coco Chanel said that to avoid over-accessorizing, women should look in the mirror and remove one thing. With you, it was often your dignity.” Ouch.

The other episodes thus far include Sam pretending she was away in rehab instead of in a coma, crashing a wedding in which she had encouraged the bride to have an affair and stressing over forgetting her past sexual experiences. Future episodes promise similar insanity as Sam tries to regain her memory by visiting a hypnotherapist, and she pretends to be an avid hockey fan to impress a date.

While the show may be still working out a few kinks, Applegate is charmingly endearing and Smart constantly finds laughs. In the end, if you are not watching this fall’s new No. 1 comedy, you must be having a memory lapse.