I finally had see what all the hype was about. I found Emily VanCamp first endearing, then later super annoying on Brothers and Sisters. (The pilot of which I really  must write about at some point.) This show has been billed as the ushering in a new era of prime time soap operas to rival the heyday of Dallas, priming us, of course, for that reboot. Continue reading

Samantha Who?

Samantha Who Christina ApplegateSamantha Who was a sit-com in which Christina Applegate played the eponymous character, but Jean Smart, who plays Samantha’s mother, steals the pilot. She opens the show with snarky hilarity not far removed from her character on The Oblongs. Samantha wakes up from a coma to find her mother, Regina, standing over her with a video camera, generating sympathy footage to win a spot on Extreme Makeover: Home Edition. “I don’t care if no one likes her. She’s my daughter,” she trills.

For a sit-com pilot, this one has quite a bit to accomplish. It has to fill us in on a good chunk of back story and essentially introduce us to two versions of the protagonist. It was also a show that built on itself, episode to episode, so the pilot had to start that momentum. It’s a comedy that’s part mystery, keeping viewers on their toes.

Samantha awakes from her coma with retrograde amnesia; she doesn’t remember anyone or anything. Overlook that cliched improbability and indulge in the fantasy the show offers–what would you think of your life if you could view it as a objective outsider? How would you fix what’s wrong with it? We already know that no one likes Samantha, thanks to Regina, but Samantha doesn’t. Her parents seem to at least be there for her, as does her boyfriend Todd (Barry Watson; Matt Camden is all grown up and smoking hot) and her self-described best friend Dena (Melissa McCarthy doing her usual spunky thing). But life is full of surprises for Samantha and, in turn, the audience.

Jennifer Esposito plays  BFF Andrea, a 180-degree switch from her character on Related (did anyone but me watch that show?), but her value as a friend is highly suspect. We first meet her as she and Regina trade punches in a hilarious scene back at the home of Samantha’s parents. The two of them are so evenly matched for understated bitchiness, they could have their own spin-off. Andrea also informs Sam that she hasn’t spoken to her parents in two years; we have to wonder if that’s by Sam’s choice or theirs.

Andrea invites Samantha out to a club and the secrets being to emerge. Each twist builds on the last. We find that Samantha has been cheating on Todd with a married man named Rene, that she actually ditched Dena as a friend back in the seventh grade, and that she can fire off scathing insults at lightening speed when provoked. Oh, and she’s an alcoholic. Martini in hand, she discovers an AA token in her purse–which says more about the kind of friend Andrea is than anything else–and bolts of to a 12-step meeting.

Barry Watson as Todd has a unique task to pull off in all this. He’s perfectly polite, but not at all affectionate with his supposed girlfriend. Their attempt at a kiss is hopelessly awkward. There are no tears of relief that his love has emerged from a coma alive and well; something is definitely off. Yet, he is fully willing to allow Samantha back into their home and demonstrates his attentiveness by reciting personal details about her like that she always sneezes three times. When Samantha asks smarmy Rene how many times she sneezes, he reacts with fear of catching something. So, we’re set up to root for Todd. However, we find out near the end that he broke up with Samantha just before her accident. It’s probably for good reason, based on what we’ve learned of her so far. That leaves us with our season-long question, will they get back together?

The show did well in its first season but viewership dropped off in the second because, really, how long can you believably sustain an amnesia story? By the end of the pilot Samantha has already had one flashback, from the day she and Todd met as she stole his double latte at a coffee shop. Pieces of memory like this are destined to continue episode after episode. The pilot leaves us wondering what else will pop up. It also goes out on a high note with a great Jean Smart moment.

Here’s a video of Jean Smart talking about the show.

Ghost Whisperer

I’ve watched various episodes of Ghost Whisperer over time, in no particular order. I’m always slightly confused because there are different characters on it every time I happen to catch it. Sometimes Camryn Manheim is on it, sometimes Jamie Kennedy, sometimes Jay Mohr and, in the episode I caught today, Aisha Tyler. So I had to get to the bottom of this and see the original cast in action. A lot of shows switch actors and characters over time, in response to ratings or whatever, but we must assume that the pilot is the closest thing to the creator’s real vision.

To introduce Melinda (Jennifer Love Hewitt) the writers present her to us as a little girl. At a funeral for an old man, she has a predictable interaction with the deceased’s ghost, sharing a secret message with his widow. If you came into this viewing with no idea what the show is about, that takes care of it quickly and cleanly.

We then find the adult Melinda at her wedding reception, perhaps suggesting some parallel between this day and the one at the long ago funeral. She has a heart-to-heart with her new brother-in-law that reveals a few details about her husband Jim (David Conrad). He is a paramedic who recently lost a patient.

The newlyweds move into a new house, the house becoming the source of things creepy that will form the plot of the episode. Melinda immediately starts seeing weird stuff, but since that ghost in the cold open was such a sweetie it’s not quite clear why these new ones are scary.

The show’s “rules” are spelled out through a coffee house conversation Melinda has with her best friend Andrea (Aisha Tyler).  She utters an adage that seems to carry great weight: “Places aren’t haunted. People are haunted.”  Yet, the new house certainly seems haunted, and Melinda claims that ghosts don’t usually make house calls.

The pilot plot revolves around the ghost of an M.I.A. Vietnam soldier (Jensen Ackles) who is looking for his wife. He—or someone—yells at her in a dream, something that apparently happens to her regularly. She tracks down the soldier’s son (Balthazar Getty). Although Melinda has been assisting sprits for most of her life, she’s really awkward and embarrassed when it comes time to talk to the living relatives.

By this point, I’m wondering why the writers bothered with the cold open of Melinda as a child. If they were telling us that the talking to ghosts thing is old hat for her, then why does it seems so fresh and scary in her adulthood? Why did they choose her wedding day as the point of attack for this story?

The other unexplained circumstance is that Melinda has recently promised her husband she’ll cut back on the ghost counseling business. Yet her husband seems okay with her vocation, at least until he has his own crisis of faith about being a paramedic. Finally, a Shamylan-style twist keeps this pilot from completely dying on the vine.

Eventully, of course, she reunities father and son through a tearful exchange one-sided exchange. She paraphrases what the ghost says—something I’ve noticed she does in other episodes as well—going to far as to correct his grammar. But I guess you’d be smug, too, if you had supernatural powers.

When all is done and the dead have gone into the light, this pilot doesn’t leave me feeling that I’ve gotten to know these characters. It has been more about how life, death, and afterlife work, and we’ve had that spelled out at least a thousand times since Carol Anne got sucked into the TV. The next episode could just as well be about a different ghost whisperer, solving another ghost’s quest for closure. So, as a pilot I wouldn’t say this episode carries its weight. And with all the subsequent changes one feels like there must have been a lot of “this show would be pretty good if only…” Although it ran for 5 seasons, the network finally threw in the towel last year. (A rumor that ABC is going to pick it up was apparently unfounded.) Jennifer Love Hewitt says an emotional good-bye here.