By KATE TAYLOR
Monday, October 15, 2007
Amnesia has to be one of the most tired plot devices in Hollywood, but ABC valiantly attempts to resurrect it with its new sitcom Samantha Who? (A-Channel, ABC, 9:30 p.m.). Samantha (played by Christina Applegate of Married ... with Children fame) awakens from a coma to find she has something called retrograde amnesia: She understands the world and can function perfectly well, but has no memory of who she is, nor does she recognize her family and friends.
In tonight's amusing premiere, she gets reacquainted with her nearest and dearest only to discover she's a nasty alcoholic who hasn't spoken to her ghastly parents in two years and is cheating on the boyfriend who is now sweetly trying to reconnect with her. When her boozy best friend urges her to get to a party, Sam unwittingly invites her boyfriend to her lover's birthday.
Apparently, the point of the sitcom (which was titled Sam I Am until the Dr. Seuss estate protested) is that Sam must now decide whether to remake herself as a good girl.
And that's going to have to provide a sustaining theme here, because that amnesia thing is hardly going to support a series. Sure, whole thrillers have been built around those tortured men who awake in hospital beds with no idea of their own identity, but in comedy, amnesia is rarely more than a passing gag. ("Hit him again, maybe his memory will come back....") Expanding that idea to provide the entire premise of a sitcom may offer lots of laughs in this first episode, but as Sam gets to know these people and we get to know the concept, familiarity is surely going to kill the joke.
The best thing about Samantha Who? is actually Applegate's classic screwball work, debating her relationship with the lemon square at an AA meeting or fending off the surprise lover. Her talents deserve a concept that might actually last a few seasons.
Also on tonight: The CBC sent over a cup of soup recently, with promises it would cure the common cold. It wasn't chicken noodle, but some spicy South Asian concoction that did seem to soothe a persistent cough. The stuff is being peddled as Dr. Rasam's tomato soup by 10-year-old Vikram Patil, a contestant on tonight's episode of Dragons' Den (CBC, 8 p.m.), where he and his sisters secure funding to market the stuff.
The point is that things are supposedly heating up on Dragons' Den, that reality show where a group of taciturn Canadian millionaires take the most hopeless lot of would-be entrepreneurs you could ever imagine down into their grim basement and let them twist in the wind before dismissing them with a few blunt words.
Sure enough, the show seems to be finding its feet in this second season. The Dragons, greatly enlivened by the presence of Arlene Dickinson, seem more comfortable on camera; hey, Robert Herjavec and Laurence Lewin even get flirty over a marriage-counselling board game tonight. They dispense with the duds more swiftly and more wittily: Tonight a mouthy strip-club owner who wants to launch Canadian Exotic Idol gets stomped on by the ever-nasty Kevin O'Leary, who explains to her that her reality-TV concept is not going to attract advertisers. And they actually find some stuff worth negotiating over, including a tea-shop franchise opportunity in Calgary and, of course, that spicy soup.
Check local listings.
John Doyle returns on Oct. 22.
Also airing tonight
Iron Ladies of Liberia (CBC Newsworld, 10 p.m.), the final documentary in the international Why Democracy? project, will be broadcast this evening - or make that the final in the handful Newsworld has deigned to broadcast. These are powerful docs, and it would have been great to see all 10 of them air in Canada. Like Newsworld's schedule is so crammed with great programming, they can't fit them in?
Anyway, Iron Ladies charts the first year in office of Liberia's Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, the first democratically elected female leader in Africa. Sirleaf uses common sense and basic fairness in her attempt to patch up her impoverished, war-torn country. Perhaps her most important achievement is getting the United States to forgive billions in debt, but her most revealing moment is when, after a negotiating session with disgruntled and riotous former soldiers, she explains the concept of Big Ma, the woman who really listens before she gets tough.