TV on DVD: Samantha Who?-- The Complete First Season

Warning: Do not operate heavy machinery
(other than your DVD player)
as memory loss and incessant laughter will occur.


Although Samantha Newly (Christina Applegate) laments that “old me really screwed new me over,” in ABC’s hit sitcom, Samantha Who?, when it came to the reception her show received, the former Married With Children star couldn’t have been more wrong.

For nearly half of Who’s fifteen-episode initial season, Applegate’s sunny comedy (which she also produces) became the “highest-rated freshman sitcom of the 2007-2008 TV season” additionally dethroning Charlie Sheen’s two-year title holding CBS comedy Two and a Half Men as the highest rated sitcom for that exact same period.

Not too shabby for a series that took the daring and usually melodramatic topic of retrograde amnesia as the platform for their Pygmalion-like comedy. In the pilot episode of Samantha Who?, we find the formerly “Bad Samantha” awakening after an eight-day coma from being hit by a car. However, after the balloons and flowers have lost their charm, she becomes acquainted with her villainous old life. And upon realizing that it’s time to change her ways and become “New Samantha," suddenly her character’s name Samantha Newly becomes all the more apt as Applegate’s heroine decides to turn over a new leaf and rectify past mistakes.

Samantha Who? Promo

Although she’s primarily both her own Eliza Doolittle and Professor Higgins, Samantha has a great support system all too eager to help steer her in, if not the right direction, then down whichever direction they decide to pursue. After her mother makes peace with the fact that she won’t be able to win an Extreme Home Makeover upon Samantha’s awakening and her dad gives her his business card as a means of introducing himself, Samantha tries to mend fences with the parents she hadn’t spoken with in two years, Regina and Howard Newly (played by a hilarious Jean Smart and Kevin Dunn). And while it’s Smart who steals every scene she’s in, in one particularly humorous episode and the desire to bond with her outdoorsman father, Samantha decides to view the misnamed film The Deer Hunter, later prompting Samantha to ask, “Have you heard of Vietnam? I mean, do people know about that?”

Additionally, she also shares a close paternal/mentor relationship with her aspiring screenwriter doorman Frank (Tim Russ) who always offers her the perfect piece of advice or quote, despite his wish to stay out of her life. However Sam has the most trouble dealing with the unexpected sparks that fly as she strives to establish new boundaries with her former photographer boyfriend Todd (Barry Watson) that get much more difficult when he not only reciprocates her feelings but has begun seeing an unstable, clingy woman named Chloe (Kiele Sanchez).

And over the course of the season, Samantha moves in and out of her family home and old apartment as she comes to term with living life as a virtual newborn. Luckily, like a figurative good angel on one shoulder and a bad one on the other, Samantha has two friends pulling her in opposite directions. While Bad Samantha’s best friend, the champagne guzzling Andrea (Jennifer Esposito), misses Sam’s old partying, bed-hopping, and manipulative ways, young Samantha’s childhood best friend Dena (Melissa McCarthy) relishes the opportunity to start fresh with Samantha so much that she initially lies about their relationship as you can see in the clip below.

Samantha’s Friends

And while sometimes Samantha finds this so overwhelming that she engages in mini-freak outs that get her kicked out of AA or send people running in the opposite direction, she uses her misfortune to her benefit, deciding — like the thematically similar Jennifer Garner comedy 13 Going On 30 -- that she’ll change her ways to become the woman she’s always wanted instead of trying to catch up on three decades of her life.

Although first she must realize just how “bad” Bad Samantha was which serves as a running gag of the first season. Containing numerous confrontations with those whose lives she’d destroyed from violating a restraining order on an old boyfriend who’s dog she’d kidnapped to the married men she pursued, as well as the banning of office birthday parties so that she could horde the cake in her own freezer and save company money — soon it becomes so much that she changes her outgoing answering machine to two screamed words, namely, “I’m sorry!”

And whether she’s learning far too late of her tremendous fear of elevators, discovering that she’d booked herself an appointment to get a boob job, is massively in debt thanks to the shoes and accessories department of her favorite stores, why The Go-Go’s makes her cry, or just trying to remember what liquid soap, REO Speedwagon, and frozen yogurt is, Applegate makes us laugh regardless. This is especially apparent in this scene as she consults Todd while trying to figure out just what it is she does for a living.

“What do I do?”

And although sometimes oral and visual cues prompt her into brief remembrances of the past, Samantha who is afraid to date for fear that she’ll have little to offer in the way of her side of the conversation, goes to drastic measures, such as hypnotherapy, to try and restore her old memory. However, while it does help in her ability to ride in an elevator without screaming which does a world of good in preventing her from running up twenty flights of stairs to her office in a real estate firm where she’s the vice president, her childhood is still a bit fuzzy.


Featuring a fun and brightly colored booklet entitled “The Good and Bad of Love, Life and Career” written by Samantha, Andrea, and Dena (The Women of Samantha Who?), the first season of creators Donald Todd and Cecilia Ahren’s show hits DVD shelves on September 23. Roughly 322 minutes, the two-disc set is loaded with commentaries and contains bloopers and deleted scenes as well as sneak peeks from other ABC programs. Transferred to its stunning widescreen display that’s enhanced for 16x9 televisions and featuring Dolby Digitial 5.1 Surround Sound, Samantha Who? which is rated TV-PG is also available with a French language and subtitle track as well as Spanish and English subtitles.

Smartly written, upbeat and ridiculously fast paced enough that it could be likened to a thirty minute version of co-star Melissa McCarthy’s work on the screwball inspired rapid-fire dialogue heavy Gilmore Girls, it consistently amazed me how much substantial plot was crammed into each and every episode without one seeming as though it was there as a “filler.” While it’ll be fascinating to see if it can keep up the same momentum as the one-joke amnesia premise may not be able to sustain for more than a few years and keep up the quality for a full year of episodes (as opposed to the shorter run of fifteen you’ll find on the DVDs), Applegate is tremendously charming.

Moreover, she remains in the company of the chosen few female comedians like Lucille Ball, Mary Tyler Moore, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Debra Messing, Sarah Jessica Parker, Lauren Graham, and Tina Fey who play against their glamorous beauty, instead bending over backwards to make us laugh, and reminds us once again just how talented she can be (for further proof she can crack you up even more than some of the guys check out her work in Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy).

Additionally, it’s a feel-great and life-affirming sitcom that’s so refreshing to viewers who — like myself — were growing far too weary of argumentative sitcoms like Everybody Loves Raymond that don’t celebrate people but rather present a mean-spirited form of humor wherein you wish everyone involved would divorce or go their separate ways. When it comes to Samantha Who?, you quickly realize you just want this zany gang to stay together, even if its lead character may have trouble remembering just who they all are.