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"Samantha Who?" The Complete First Season DVD Review

Buy Samantha Who?: The Complete First Season on DVD from Amazon.com Samantha Who?: Season One (2007-08)
Show & DVD Details

Creators: Cecelia Ahern, Donald Todd / Writers: Donald Todd, Bob Kushell, Alex Reid, Christine Zander, Pamela Ribon, Justin Adler, Jim Reynolds, Ric Swartzlander, Jessi Klein, Jenny Lee, Kim Duran / Regular Directors: Lee Shallat Chemel, Michael Spiller, Barnet Kellman, Tucker Gates, Paul Lazarus, Julie Ann Robinson

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

Recurring Characters: Kiele Sanchez (Chloe), Rick Hoffman (Chase Chapman), Joy Osmanski (Tracy), Eddie Cibrian (Kevin)

Notable Guest Stars: William Abadie (Rene), Jessica St. Clair (Valerie), Ryan Carlberg (Jason), Todd Grinnell (Nathan), Beth Littleford (Audrey Rhodes), Timothy Olyphant (Winston Funk), Jerry O'Connell (Craig), Jim Rash (Artist), Natasha Leggero (Woman Customer)

Running Time: 324 Minutes (15 episodes) / Rating: TV-PG
1.78:1 Anamorphic Widescreen / Dolby Digital 5.1 (English)
Subtitles: English, Spanish, French; Closed Captioned; Extras Subtitled
DVD Release Date: September 23, 2008
Season 1 Airdates: October 15, 2007 - May 12, 2008
Two single-sided, dual-layered discs (DVD-9s); Suggested Retail Price: $29.99
Black Keepcase with Side Snaps and Embossed Cardboard Slipcover

Buy from Amazon.com • Buy Season 2

Christina Applegate grew up on the racy Fox sitcom "Married... With Children" (1987-97). She welcomed adulthood playing a single mom on NBC's two-season sitcom "Jesse" (1998-2000).
Now in her mid-30s, after years of movies and a Tony-nominated run on Broadway, Applegate has moved onto a third sitcom as the lead of ABC's "Samantha Who".

In appearance, "Samantha" won't ever be confused for either of Applegate's earlier TV series. It looks more like the hour-long shows ABC has had success with this decade. That's because it's produced in a similar way, shot on film with a single camera and no laugh track. Production values are clearly a cut above most of its ancestors in this notoriously thrifty genre.

But it's also at a distance from its alphabet network brethren. With half-hour episodes, "Samantha" is obviously half the length of "Desperate Housewives", "Grey's Anatomy", and "Ugly Betty." Where those shows are often classified as comedy-dramas, "Samantha" settles for the first part. It operates purely as comedy, forgoing the angst, ensembles, complicated character connections, and enduring mysteries. As such, it's both a lot leaner and lighter than most of what's on TV.

Christina Applegate plays Samantha Newly, who amnesia renders a bad girl gone good in "Samantha Who?". Ex-boyfriend Todd (Barry Watson) and Samantha have a complicated relationship that's largely at the center of Season 1.

"Samantha Who?" is driven largely by a concept, one conceived by young Irish author Cecelia Ahern (PS, I Love You) and fleshed out by longtime television writer Donald Todd ("ALF", "Dave's World"). As the title question suggests, uncertainty plagues the protagonist. Hit by a car, Samantha Newly (Applegate) awakens from an 8-day coma with extensive retrograde amnesia. She doesn't recognize her parents, her friends, a significant other, or much of anything about her life. Other than that, she's perfectly functional and eager to test that.

Severe memory loss is often played for drama and suspense, but Samantha's re-evaluation of her life maintains an utterly comedic tone. With medical malady and not a misaligned personality to blame, a female finally gets to embrace the regression so widely celebrated by contemporary comedy's male heroes. Piecing her pre-coma life together with flashbacks, Samantha discovers a number of past transgressions, painting an unsavory portrait of an egotistical, alcoholic (not really), bratty, and disloyal Chicago career woman. She's trying to change that -- to better herself rather than resume the fast life she used to lead -- and mostly succeeding one step at a time.

Surrounding Samantha and either guiding or scrambling her moral compass are the six supporting actors of the core cast. There are her two diametric colleagues. Loose, slutty lawyer Andrea (Jennifer Esposito, "Spin City") still embraces the lifestyle of Old Samantha, while token cheery fat girl (Melissa McCarthy, "Gilmore Girls") balances a lacking social life with -- of course -- a big heart. Ex-boyfriend Todd (Barry Watson, "7th Heaven") is a photographer and opportunist who wields rekindled romance potential. Then there are Samantha's parents, with whom she moves back in: a conceited mother (this week's Emmy winner Jean Smart, "Designing Women") and a frugal father (Kevin Dunn) who per casting norms are unrealistically young. Finally, Frank (Tim Russ, "Star Trek: Voyager") the wise, weary doorman suggests something unique and special about the program.

Samantha chats with her two best friends (Jennifer Esposito, Melissa McCarthy) at their favorite coffee shop hangout. Jean Smart won an Emmy this week for her portrayal of Samantha's sassy mother Regina.

"Samantha" plays to mainstream sensibilities; it's about as far from topical and biting as any of the few network comedies squeezed alongside dramas and reality shows. As such, some will find the series bland overall. And yet, its broad, frothy manner of entertainment is hard to dislike. The execution is familiar but fun, and the good premise makes up for a lack of strong humor. Doing the lion's share of comic delivery, Christina Applegate comes across as charismatic and likable and that certainly keeps the series afloat. There is a bit of conflict between the far-fetched scenarios
and the realistic appearance that makes the program feel like a standard sitcom in 21st century clothing. But though gimmicky, the series remains agreeable and even slightly charming at times.

While the basis for the series offers a solid narrative device, it doesn't lend itself to a long, stable run. That'd be fine in the United Kingdom where a sitcom may reach a fully satisfactory conclusion in one or two groups of six episodes. In the United States, though, anything less than renewal looks like a failing grade. I can see the series' breezy appeal and limited storytelling potential being at odds in the near-future.

That's a concern for later, because "Samantha" doesn't begin to grow weary in its debut season. That today's sitcoms run just over 21 minutes after commercials means episodes whiz by, particularly with all the location and costume changes and lacks of big, staged scene-closing zingers. Couple that design with the 2007-08 Writer's Strike and it's no surprise that the show was able to keep fresh and bouncy through just fifteen episodes.

Audiences took to "Samantha", due in part to the fact that it was given the desirable timeslot immediately following popular reality program "Dancing with the Stars." Ratings started strong, with the series initially ousting "Two and a Half Men" as America's most-watched sitcom. When "Dancing" bowed out after November sweeps, audience numbers took a dive, but they rebounded some when the lead-in returned for the spring's post-strike weeks.

Today sees Disney releasing The Complete First Season of "Samantha Who?", a set wielding less content and a considerably lower price than most of this month's abundant DVDs of last season's TV. Synopses follow, with a star () indicating my favorite episodes of the set.

Samantha moves from comatose to amnesiac in the opening moments of the pilot episode. The bride (Jessica St. Clair) is none too pleased to see her disinvited bridesmaid show up at "The Wedding." Samantha is eager to shed her post-coma virginity with the first available guy (Ryan Carlberg).

Disc 1

1. Pilot (22:29) (Originally aired October 15, 2007)
Samantha wakes from her coma and struggles to reacquaint herself with her parents, her friend, her ex-boyfriend, and, at his birthday party, her lover.

2. The Job (21:26) (Originally aired October 22, 2007)
Samantha returns to work and, after learning what she does, considers quitting.

3. The Wedding (21:34) (Originally aired October 29, 2007)
Samantha attends a wedding to which she was invited. There, personalities clash.

4. The Virgin (21:34) (Originally aired November 5, 2007)
Samantha tries to remember and pursue sex.

Hoping to sort out her daddy issues, Samantha joins her father (Kevin Dunn) on a hunting trip. Samantha admires her new customized Blackhawks jersey in "The Hockey Date." A shiny new car with a big ribbon on top is just the gift to trigger Sam's guilt.

5. The Restraining Order (21:34) (Originally aired November 12, 2007)
Bothered by the discovery an ex-boyfriend
has a restraining order against her, Samantha tries to bond with her father on his hunting trip.

6. The Hypnotherapist (21:34) (Originally aired November 19, 2007)
A visit to a hypnotherapist convinces Samantha she's adopted and prompts her to move out on her own.

7. The Hockey Date (21:35) (Originally aired November 26, 2007)
Thanks to her mother, Samantha starts dating again, but her planned outing to a Blackhawks game hits an unforeseen snag.

8. The Car (21:34) (Originally aired December 3, 2007)
Reluctantly given a chance to drive again, Samantha covers up an auto accident by making it look like a theft gone wrong.

Samantha wastes no time before getting serious about her new relationship with Kevin (Eddie Cibrian). Samantha stands between Todd and his new girlfriend both literally and figuratively. Snow starts to fall for the first time in New Samantha's life as her billionaire boss turns up the charm.

Disc 2

9. The Break-Up (21:29) (Originally aired December 10, 2007)
Entered into a relationship with her hockey date, Samantha moves to make things serious quickly and soon is dumped.

10. The Girlfriend (21:35) (Originally aired April 7, 2008)
Three's company as Samantha moves in with Todd and his girlfriend Chloe (Kiele Sanchez). Dena and Samantha's mother bond over makeovers and shared revelations.

11. The Boss (21:35) (Originally aired April 14, 2008)
Samantha's forgotten billionaire boss Mr. Funk (guest Timothy Olyphant) returns and proposes to her. Dena brings romance novel sensibilities to this episode.

The attentions of Mr. Coleman (Gary Hoffman) and Dena are seized by a TV interview with the woman who brought them together (Samantha). Samantha's fresh-picked date Craig (Jerry O'Connell) listens to his curious introduction as her serious boyfriend Rance in "The Gallery Show." Friends and family gather around Samantha for her season-closing, urban-set "first" birthday celebration.

12. The Butterflies (21:35) (Originally aired April 21, 2008)
Samantha sets up her boss (Rick Hoffman) with Dena and conscientiously objects to a butterflies-evicting real estate project.

13. The Gallery Show (21:35) (Originally aired April 28, 2008)
Samantha gets a man (Jerry O'Connell) to pose as her date at Todd's photo gallery show.

14. The Affair (21:16) (Originally aired May 5, 2008)
Samantha and Todd romance secretly and she suspects her mother's having an affair of her own.

15. The Birthday (21:29) (Originally aired May 12, 2008)
Samantha encourages Todd to break up with Chloe so they can be together. Regina and Andrea team up to throw Samantha a "first" birthday party.

Regular flashbacks show us a different side of Samantha. Here, she's meaner, longer-haired, and scheming alongside Andrea. Dena and Regina use lots of make-up to give each other makeovers in "The Girlfriend."

VIDEO and AUDIO

Like most other 21st century primetime series, "Samantha Who" takes on the specifications of a major movie in 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen and Dolby Digital 5.1 surround. Neither aspect posed any problems, although the show opts for a softer look than its dramatic brethren. The soundtrack features a number of pivotal pop songs presumably all cleared in advance for this DVD including Rupert Holmes' "Escape (The Piña Colada Song)" and "We Got the Beat" by the Go-Go's.

Jean Smart and Christina Applegate get goofy during a flubbed take from the short "Samantha Whoops?" outtakes reel. Jennifer Esposito holds up a thong in this lingerie-shopping deleted scene. The main menus' opening montage poses many of the questions asked in the show's super-brief opening title sequence.

BONUS FEATURES, MENUS and PACKAGING

The modest selection of bonus features begin with an audio commentary on Disc 1.
Christina Applegate is joined by executive producers Donald Todd and Peter Traugott to discuss the pilot episode. It's a good track, chock-full of information both on little things and the series' big picture. Anyone buying this DVD should enjoy the fun listen.

Disc 2 holds two additional extras. "Samantha Whoops?" (1:08) consists entirely of laughter stemming from flubbed lines and unseen circumstances, rendering it both shorter and less accessible than most blooper reels.

The supplements end with seven deleted scenes (5:48) that are presented with optional on-camera introductions (2:52) by Donald Todd. Both the scenes and the intros are short and unremarkable. Only two deletions exceed a minute, and all are said to have been cut for time. Still, there's no harm in them being preserved as they will provide some viewers with a bit of amusement.

Disc One opens with promos for "Private Practice": The Complete First Season, "Ugly Betty": The Complete Second Season, "Grey's Anatomy": The Complete Fourth Season, and "Dirty Sexy Money": The Complete First Season. These aren't available from the menu, but Disc 2 holds the usual Sneak Peeks section and with it, previews for "Desperate Housewives": The Complete Fourth Season, "Brothers and Sisters": The Complete Second Season, Miramax Films, The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian, WALL•E, and for ABC airings of "Ugly Betty" and "Samantha Who?".

The simple but serviceable menus set character images against a blue background. Most are static with score accompaniment, but the main menus would be an exception, delivering moving montages in the same vein.

The first "Samantha Who?" DVD is packaged in a standard black keepcase that slides into a cardboard slipcover with the same artwork selectively embossed on front. Inside the case are ad booklets for Blu-ray and DVDs of last season's ABC dramas. More importantly, there is an 8-page booklet called The Good & Bad of Love, Life & Career, authored by the series' characters. Much like the show, the printed thoughts on various topics aren't as witty as intended, but they do provide amusement. The last page serves to list episodes (sans synopses) and extras.

Frank the doorman (Tim Russ) is always outside to give Samantha some sage advice. Just don't expect it to come with a smile. No, Nancy Drew hasn't grown up. That's just Samantha Who, hiding behind a plant to be Todd's affair.

CLOSING THOUGHTS

The word "mild" can be ascribed to just about every aspect of "Samantha Who?" -- mild laughs, mild wit, mild success.
It isn't something to go out of your way to see but also isn't something likely to disappoint viewers. In its first year, the show ranks a few pegs above mediocrity and provides enough diversion for me to want to see more of it. Disney's fine DVD meets expectations in presentation and only falls a bit short in the bonus department. The set's low price should be enough to attract fans to purchase, which I can't discourage. But the 4-episode sampling presently available on ABC.com may well be more telling than my opinion.

More on the DVD / Buy from Amazon.com / Buy Season 2

Buy from Amazon.com

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The Cast of Samantha Who?:
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Reviewed September 23, 2008.



Text copyright 2008 DVDizzy.com. Images copyright 2008 Donald Todd Productions, Brillstein Entertainment Partners, ABC Studios, and Buena Vista Home Entertainment.
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