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Samantha Who?

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I'm a sucker for actors.  Give me a TV show with a strong lead who's given interesting things to do, punchy dialogue, and maybe a quirky trait or too — as long as it doesn't detract from that strength at the center — and I'll be tuning in every week, eager to watch that actor at work. 

OK, maybe that's too much to ask.  But the wonderful thing about this brave new world of the proliferation of original series all up and down the basic cable spectrum is that there's more of what I love on television these days than ever before.  It's precisely strong leads and quirky traits that sell a show in that environment.

So maybe Samantha Who? was just a little too … small … to survive.  I love Christina Applegate in this show; she throws herself into the character of Samantha, former bitch afflicted with retrograde amnesia, with infectious energy.  And I quickly grew to enjoy her still-shallow best friend and her geeky dog-obsessed other best friend and her ex that sometimes lived at her house and her mom and dad.  And as if that all wasn't enough, Billy Zane showed up in the last few episodes as millionaire philanthropist Winston Funk, who had a fling with Sam before the amnesia and now wants to get it started again, whatever the cost.

In tonight's two-part series finale, ex Todd is in London, and Sam's feelings for him haven't gotten any less conflicted.  Funk is throwing extragant charity balls to impress Sam.  Zane's ex wants Sam's help getting him back.  Andrea is trying to avoid eating during the two weeks before her reality-show wedding to Tony Dane.  And Dena and Chase are dancing around the subject of a wedding themselves, although Chase doesn't quite measure up to Aragorn, king of Gondor, on Dena's list.

Turns out Gigi, Funk's ex, is the one who ran over Sam and gave her the amnesia in the first place.  (Doorman Frank was the favorite in the tenant pool, unfortunately.)  So she's torn between her fear of killer Gigi and her attraction to smooth romantic Funk.  But even after she's made her choice, Todd keeps popping up on the webcam to say hello.

As mandated by time-honored sitcom tradition, the final episode takes place at Andrea's wedding to the gay basketball star of her dreams.  Just as Sam caves in to Funk's pressure and invites him to the wedding, Todd flies back from London to escort her himself.  But thanks to the reality show cameras, Sam finds out that Todd's London job was all a Funk plot to separate them.  And Seth the towel boy, who was secretly in love with Andrea when he set her up with Dane, decides to manufacture his own Officer and a Gentleman moment before the countdown to "I do" reaches zero hour.

You've gotta love the post-9/11 denouement, in which Sam says the wrong thing to the ticket agent at the airport ("I have no bags and it doesn't matter where I'm going because I'm not going to end up there anyway") and Todd says the wrong thing to the baggage agent ("Just let the bag go on to London without me") and they both end up in the TSA office.  Everybody ends up together, just like all finales! (Except that Sam's mother leaves her father over their differing ideas of adventure.  Now the spin-off can start, where Sam and Todd have to live with Mom!  Waa waa waaaaaa!)

Samantha Who? may be too conventional and too low-key for sensation-saturated viewers.  But it was surefooted to the very end, and everyone involved executed with panache and flair.  It's a little sad when a strong lead disappears from television; you never know if she's going to reappear in a series that you can enjoy week to week, let along in a role that suits her as well.  Christina, here's hoping you (and Billy, you too, you magnificent bastard) are back very soon.

Grade: A-

Stray observations:

- Samantha assuring Gigi that her murderous efforts bore fruit in the coma and amnesia: "That girl that you were trying to kill?  You killed her.  She's dead."  Gigi: "In Rhode Island?"

- Samantha imagining her Funk wedding: "Yes, Prime Minister, it was so good of you to come!  Oh, drummer from U2!"

- Reality show producer to Andrea, showing her alternate dads because her real dad can't make it to the wedding: "The network likes this one — he was on Veronica Mars.  We have a similar audience."

- One of the joys of tuning in every week was Applegate's fabulous wardrobe, and the flair with which she wore it.  Which made the horrendous pink shepherdessesque bridesmaid's dress she wore for the last twenty minutes of the series even more heinous a crime.