boston.com News your connection to The Boston Globe
Fall TV Review

'Samantha Who?' amnesia plot is mind-numbingly forgettable

Poor Jean Smart. Despite her last name, she keeps landing in dumb sitcoms, including, tonight at 9:30 on Channel 5, "Samantha Who?" Able to make brash inappropriateness quite funny, the "Designing Women" vet has nonetheless had no comedy success of late with the quickly canceled likes of "In-Laws," "Style and Substance," "High Society," and "Center of the Universe." In short, they were sitbombs.

Poor Christina Applegate. "Samantha Who?" is her vehicle, really. She's Samantha, who wakes from an eight-day coma with amnesia and learns she was a nasty, cheating narcissist. Applegate tries to be charming, and at times she is, as Samantha uses her second chance to be a better person, not unlike on "My Name Is Earl." But Applegate's flustered performance frequently veers into shrill hysteria, notably tonight when she freaks out at an AA meeting. Perhaps Applegate is overacting to compensate for. . .

The poor writers of "Samantha Who?" They have to try to keep a slight, preposterous amnesia concept fresh from episode to episode. But halfway through the premiere, the basis for the entire show is already worn thin. OK, we get it, she was "Bad Sam" before and now she's good; she lied to her sweet boyfriend, Todd (Barry Watson), before, but now she's good; she mistreated her loser friend Dena (Melissa McCarthy) before, but now she's good; and so forth. How long can a sitcom keep this simplistic business going, a business that can barely stay afloat for the two hours of a movie such as "Regarding Henry"? "Samantha Who?" moves fast, as the heroine scoots from her parents' home to her apartment to her office and back, but it's all so much running in place.

Poor ABC. Yes, the network has had quite a few hits lately, including "Lost," "Grey's Anatomy," and, now, potentially, "Private Practice." which is gaining ratings momentum. But still it just can't seem to create a new sitcom success, whether the show is good ("The Knights of Prosperity"), bad ("Freddie"), or ugly ("Cavemen"). And there's nothing like a sitcom hit, with its lucrative syndication potential. The network has scheduled "Samantha Who?" after the highly rated "Dancing With the Stars," which may bring on a nice initial viewership. But in my crystal ball, I see declining numbers, and I see forthcoming sorrow for. . .

Poor series creators Don Todd and Cecelia Ahern. They carefully assembled a pretty good supporting cast, including Smart, McCarthy (from "Gilmore Girls"), and Jennifer Esposito, who plays a friend who wants the corrupt Sam to return. But - whoops - they neglected to invent a durable plot device. They also had to face bumps on their journey to prime time.

First, the Dr. Seuss estate nixed the original title, "I Am Sam," and then the replacement title "Samantha Be Good" was changed, too, probably not because of Chuck Berry but because it was just bad. Todd and Ahern had to settle for "Samantha Who?" as they worked hard to bring their show to. . .

Poor us. Wait a minute - not poor us. We can watch "Samantha Who?" and be very mildly entertained and irritated, or we can turn our attention elsewhere. We have a number of comedy options during the week, including "The Office," "30 Rock," "How I Met Your Mother," "The Daily Show," "Curb Your Enthusiasm," and, on Oct. 25, "Scrubs." We get to walk away from "Samantha Who?" and forget all about it.

Matthew Gilbert can be reached at gilbert@globe.com. For more on TV, visit boston.com/ae/tv/blog/.

More from Boston.com

'Related'

Samantha Who?

Starring: Christina Applegate, Jennifer Esposito, Barry Watson, Jean Smart, Kevin Dunn, Melissa McCarthy

On: ABC, Channel 5

Time: Tonight, 9:30-10

SEARCH THE ARCHIVES