Tuned In

A Second Look At: Samantha Who?

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MITCH HADDAD / ABC

A little background first. I finally bought a new iPod. (Shortly after which, I learned how to fix the old one with a business card from a Vietnamese-sandwich place, so I now have two.) Being the cheap, boring, Consumer Reports-reading, never-buy-first-generation-tech guy, I am, I got a Classic. And this morning I watched my first TV show on it.

First, my review of the iPod. The size of the screen didn’t bother me, so I’m satisfied enough for now not to have gotten the Touch. The blurriness of the picture did, but I got used to it. I still have enough self-hating TV shame in me to be slightly embarrassed about watching a TV show on the subway–I swear, I read too! There’s a New Yorker in my bag!–but I can get used to that to. This could definitely be a good way for me to catch up on my TV backlog, when (as usual) Writing About TV takes up the time I need for Watching TV to Write About. A standard network sitcom gets me just about exactly from Park Slope to midtown via the F train. (“It made me miss my stop!” could become my new most-blurbable form of praise.)

So: the show I watched was Samantha Who? My first look at it was very cursory, mainly because I didn’t expect it to be around long. [Note: Yes, that's the same photo on the old review. While uploading the new photo I stupidly overwrote the one from October, which I gave the same filename. I did not travel in time and break history.]

Lo and behold, it’s one of the few relative hits of fall 2007. I’m still not sure why. I liked it, but it has all the signs of a show that shouldn’t last. It’s a serial sitcom, which tends to be more popular with critics than audiences. It’s single-camera, which, ditto. It’s the kind of upscale-woman-in-the-city-com that networks have been obsessed with since Sex and the City yet always fail at. And it’s very much in the mold of that particular kind of ABC sitcom that’s sort of just good enough, different but not really daring, funny but not bust-a-gut so, amusing but not unmissable: think Notes from the Underbelly (still around, for now), Jake in Progress, Big Day.

There’s the Dancing with the Stars lead-in, but that’s no guarantee of success. I suppose I credit the writing, which is just a notch above the ABC counterparts I mention above. At least a couple times I laughed audibly enough to briefly embarrass myself in public. (In the episode this morning–The Hockey Date–when Sam’s ex’s new girlfriend discovers that she has amnesia, and starts speaking to her as though she were deaf.)

But mostly it’s casting, namely, Christina Applegate as the title amnesiac, rediscovering who she is. (Jennifer Esposito and Jean Smart are no slouches either.) Applegate has a special genius for sitcoms. I don’t mean this as an insult, but there are certain actors who, for whatever reason, are nothing special in a big screen or another format, but simply pop when you put them in a half-hour show with punchlines. Her timing is great, her manner is engaging, and she just has this energy: her face sits on the screen as if backlit, quietly humming with electricity.

Or is that just the iPod talking? I haven’t detected a lot of Samantha Who? talk at Tuned In, so let me know what you think.