I’ve been pleasantly surprised by the sitcom Samantha Who? First, I generally hate sitcoms, and the premise of the show – a woman rebuilding her life after an accident that causes complete amnesia of who she is and what she’s done – seems exceptionally cliché at first. The show quickly redeemed itself in my eyes because it uses the trope in order to explore the characters and to reveal emotions, rather than just as an attention-grabbing, soap opera-esque plot device. Plus, the majority of the main characters are women, and their emotions, concerns and problems are dealt with as entirely about the women themselves (ie. they’re not constantly used to either reflect something about the male characters or advance the women’s relationships with male characters).
I think the highlight of the show, however, is Melissa McCarthy, who was also great as Lorelei’s best friend Sookie on Gilmore Girls. She plays, predictably enough, the reliable, more-than-a-little awkward friend to the main character, Samantha (played by Christina Applegate). Relating back to Betacandy’s post about the incredibly narrow limits of acceptable appearances for female actors, I find it incredibly depressing that McCarthy’s weight and body type practically guarantees that she will always be playing the quirky sidekick friend to the (hot, skinny/bland, conventional) female lead. The (relatively minor) success of a charismatic and talented woman like McCarthy in no way detracts from the point that her range of roles is limited far more by the imagination of executives than it is by her acting abilities.
What I like about her character, Dina, on this show is that her sidekick status within the show world is acknowledged and exposed. The fact that the character has been rendered invisible and expendable (even to her supposed friends) because she doesn’t fit the proper mold is never glossed over, and her mistreatment by pre-amnesia Samantha and other conventionally beautiful, “popular” women is kept right there on the surface. It’s an experience that has had lasting effects on her personality, and the advantage of Samantha’s amnesia (from both a character development and a story perspective) is that she has to hear all about these historical social dynamics, and can no longer just pretend that she played no part in it. She’s forced to stop and listen to Dina enough to realize that the marginalization didn’t just happen naturally or though no fault of her own, having stumbled unawares into the privilege of good looks. This friendship is also probably the best example of how the show deals consciously with friendships between women as important, defining relationships, while most shows seem convinced that women are incapable of forming genuine bonds with one another.
I’m a little torn on just how much I can like the role, however, because while I appreciate the fact that they’re depicting a dynamic that exists and should be exposed, they’re doing it while playing into the dynamic itself. Having a bigger woman play a high quality, complex character who addresses the fact that she’s constantly relegated to sidekick status as she’s being relegated to sidekick status is something, but not quite ideal. I consider this a step up from the pure background support figure she played as Sookie, never seeming to really notice how Lorelei got all the glory and attention, but I’d be a lot happier if I believed there was any chance Melissa McCarthy could realistically get her own sitcom.