Review: Samantha Who? 1×1 (US: ABC)

Samantha Who?

In the US: Mondays, 9.30/8.30c, ABC
In the UK: Not yet acquired

Christina Applegate’s one of those actresses that people seem to love or hate. The haters generally remember her as the teenage daughter in Married With Children? The lovers are the ones who’ve seen her in something since – maybe as one of Rachel’s sisters in Friends or in Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy.

With such a divided audience, it seems a little strange to create a vehicle for her talents/’talents’ (delete according to your attitude towards her). It seems stranger still when you consider the show’s obvious creative ancestor: The Bourne Identity.

While Applegate doesn’t exactly start kicking people in the head at a moment’s notice or start speaking numerous foreign languages, her character Samantha Newly (ooh, a pun, just like Bourne/Born) does wake up one day with no recollection of who she is. As she slowly struggles to piece together her life, she finds out her former self wasn’t exactly the nicest person in the world, and occasionally the old Sam’s special skills in catty put-downs emerge from the recesses of her mind.

Sam not only has to find out who she was, she has to decide if she wants to be it again or start afresh. And to take out the Treadstone project.

Whoops. Didn’t mean that last bit. Sorry.

Plot (hazily remembered from the ABC web site)
What if you had the chance to start over, to do it all again? For Samantha Newly (Ms. Applegate), this fantasy becomes a reality after a hit-and-run accident leaves her in an eight-day coma. When she awakens in the hospital, she is surrounded by family and friends. The only problem is that she has no idea who they are – or who she is. In medical terms, Sam has retrograde amnesia, which allows her to fully function in the world but leaves her with no personal memories. Most people would deem this disorder a curse. But Sam may come to call it a miracle. As she sets out to rediscover herself, Sam is forced to rely on the only people who can help her — an eclectic bunch of friends and family. Although now strangers to Sam, it’s not long before she begins to get an idea of who she was before the accident. Regina (Jean Smart, “24,” “Designing Women”) and Howard (Kevin Dunn, “Transformers,” “Dave”) appear to be loving parents — when they’re not downplaying the fact that Sam hasn’t spoken to them in two years. Her supposed best friend, Dena (Melissa McCarthy, “Gilmore Girls”), is sincerely supportive, until her real best friend, Andrea (Jennifer Esposito, “Crash,” “Spin City”), exposes Dena as a fraud who hasn’t seen or spoken to Sam since the seventh grade. Andrea is a party girl who seems to have Sam’s best interests at heart. However in the midst of celebrating her return, Andrea neglects to mention that Sam’s an alcoholic, is having an affair with a married man, and has a tendency for all-around morally questionable behavior. Sam’s only seemingly trustworthy acquaintance is boyfriend Todd (Barry Watson, “What About Brian,” “7th Heaven”). But will that trust last when he discovers that she cheated on him? Sam quickly discovers she was a horrible person. Vain, selfish and potentially surrounded by far more enemies than friends. She makes a conscious decision to improve herself moving forward. She vows to make better choices, even though her instincts may not always steer her in the right direction. She begins with Frank (Tim Russ, “Live Free or Die Hard,” “Star Trek: Voyager”), the doorman at Todd’s apartment building. Sam never gave him the time of day before, but upon actually saying hello to him, she discovers an incredibly observant and unlikely confidant. Sam will need to continue to piece together things from her past to guide her in discovering who she is… or was. After all, sometimes to get to the end of the story, the only place to start is the beginning.

Is it any good?
This is going to be something of a slow-burn show. The first episode doesn’t exactly set the world on fire with its amazing one-liners and witty dialogue. It’s more like a series of vaguely amusing situations designed to establish the characters. None of them are especially three-dimensional, instead being sitcom characters (girl is fat therefore must be borderline stalker; girl is bitchy therefore must drink a lot; etc).

But the show, shot like a drama and with a budget to match, does show promise. It’s clearly taking its time establishing everyone, creating a challenge for Applegate as she realises everyone hates her, even her boyfriend. A My Name is Earl-style quest for redemption and to win the love of her love is clearly on the cards and Applegate does a fine job of making new Sam sympathetic, while not making her too good to be true.

The rest of the cast is equally good, with former Vulcan Tim Russ probably the best as her intellectual doorman whom she decides finally to get to know after years of her former self’s ignoring him. The weakest link is probably Jennifer Espoito, whose role as a shallow, one-dimensional bitchy friend doesn’t really give her much to work with.

This is probably one of those shows you have to watch at least three episodes of before you’ll know for sure if it’s worth sticking with. Nothing remarkable yet, but could be good given time. Here’s a YouTube trailer.


Samantha Newly (Christina Applegate)
Regina (Jean Smart)
Howard (Kevin Dunn)
Dena (Melissa McCarthy)
Andrea (Jennifer Esposito)
Todd (Barry Watson)
Frank (Tim Russ)