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.

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The Oblongs

I think this animated show was on the air for a couple of weeks before it was cancelled. The story goes that it was actually cancelled mid-episode in Australia, because the network got so many outraged calls. It has recently resurfaced on Cartoon Network (and it’s available on DVD), so I thought I’d revisit it.

The first image we see as the pilot begins is a clean-cut man stepping out of a huge, fancy house. He reads the headline of his newspaper, Rich Get Richer, and smiles. Then he flushes his toilet and we, the viewer follow along a pipe down the side of the hill to where the sewage empties into a cesspit. This show is not about the rich people.

One by one, we meet the members of the family living at the bottom of the pipe. Bob Oblong (Will Ferrel) rises and shines. He is very cheerful for a guy with no arms or legs. He notes how cute his wife, Pickles (Jean Smart), is. She has no hair and wakes up still drunk enough that she’s not sure where she is. There are teenage conjoined twins in the shower. Bob reminds them to be thankful for their extra buttock. There’s a daughter who has something that resembles a cross between a penis and a pickle growing out of her head. We know the younger son, Milo, is the real focus since he’s introduced last. He’s busy sawing the foot board of his bed. We’re not told the exact nature of his ailment, but one eye is bigger than the other and he attends a special school. Where he needs a muzzle. Is this ridiculous enough yet? No? The cat smokes. Before you can even process any sense of plotline you are almost overwhelmed with over-the-top, bizarre images. You might be offended, if there were time.

As we head out to the bus stop it only gets worse. Everyone in this valley is some kind of mutant. The kids who go to “normal” school have too many abnormalities to take in at one glance. There are about four of them in assorted shapes and sizes, who hang out with Milo.

At the factory where Bob works he is surrounded by more valley freaks, and the rich guy from the opening, Mr. Climber, is his boss. Bob’s job is using his mouth to screw tops onto bottles of poison. (“The poison tastes different today,” he notes matter-of-factly.) The boss tells Bob that he has filed too many health insurance claims, and if he files any more he will lose his coverage. So, when the twins get in an accident, the family can no longer afford to send Milo to public school. There’s a pretty tasteless joke where the doctor is informed that the boys are conjoined twins. “Oh,” he says, “then it’s not as bad as I thought.” The jokes are like that; so out of left field you can’t help but laugh, tasteless as they may be.

Now that Milo has to transfer, the episode takes on a new-kid-at-school storyline. Like the Karate Kid before him, he falls for one of the popular girls, and gets beaten up by the popular guys. But the story is familiar for all of five seconds. It turns out the popular girl is an alien. She removes Milo’s brain for a quick look-see and then sends him on his way, smitten and outfitted with a tracking device.

We learn that Pickles is from the Hills, but relocated for love. She has a rival in Pristine, a mother of one or more of the popular girls. The popular girls come in a package deal; they all dress and talk the same and have the same name, Debbie.

The fun of this show is how sickeningly cheerful the Oblongs are in the face of adversity. They express worry and frustration at their day-to-day problems, but they don’t dwell on their big problems – the really big ones that are in your face the whole time you’re watching the show. Even the people from the Hills, although they think the Valley dwellers are icky, seem to have adapted to this way of life. That kind of juxtaposition makes the jokes spring up all over the place, like whack-a-moles. If you can get your head around how freaking weird this show is, it’s absolutely hilarious.

Spoiler alert. Milo doesn’t get the girl. His goth little friend burns down his club house, and thinking Milo is dead, the alien girl vaporizes herself.

Memorable quote: “I think I’ll hang around for a while and poke my first love’s remains with a stick.”