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How will cancer news affect Christina Applegate's Emmy bid?

August 4, 2008 | 11:24 am

The news that Christina Applegate is battling breast cancer comes just as Emmy judges are watching the nominees' sample DVDs and checking off ballots to decide who wins.

No doubt this sad news will cause voters to be more sympathetic, thus hiking her chances a bit, but how much of a hike does she need? Is Christina Applegate really in this race for best comedy actress for starring as an amnesia victim in "Samantha Who?"

Answer: yes. First, don't be put off by the fact that she once portrayed a shallow, ditzy role (Kelly Bundy) on one of TV's longest-running series never to win an Emmy ("Married . . . With Children"). Christina Applegate won an Emmy in 2003 for portraying Jennifer Aniston's sister in a guest role on "Friends."

In the current Emmy race, she probably doesn't have to worry about Mary-Louise Parker, who gave Emmy judges an episode of "Weeds" titled "Bill Sussman" in which she has only one big scene. The other three women have real shots to prevail — America Ferrera ("Ugly Betty"), Tina Fey ("30 Rock") and Julia Louis-Dreyfus ("The New Adventures of Old Christine"). Last year's winner Ferrera has an edge again this year because she competes against half-hour sitcoms with a full-hour program and she gives an especially flashy performance in an episode that shows her freaking out whenever she applies an odd perfume ("Odor in the Court").

But Christina Applegate's episode is superb ("The Restraining Order"), having lots of Emmy advantages. We all know how much Emmy voters love stars who portray twins or evil/good opposites of their characters. Heck, that's the story of gazillions of actors who win Daytime Emmys and it explains how a lightweight prime-time contender like Lindsay Wagner ("The Bionic Woman") won best drama actress of 1977 over the likes of Sada Thompson ("Family") and Michael Learned ("The Waltons"). In this episode we see the goody-goody Samantha and, in flashback scenes, the dragon she was before she went into a coma. Also, she gets a few big crying scenes. Those are always a plus.

It's curious that Christina Applegate chose not to submit the pilot episode of "Samantha Who?" — that's what most stars of new series do and it's usually a good strategy because it provides a terrif overview of one's character.

But Applegate opted for "The Restraining Order," which showcases her in two story lines. She's desperate to patch things up with her dad and have a meaningful relationship with him again now that she's no longer the evil Samantha. And, secondly, she stalks a guy who swore out a restraining order against her back when she was bad Samantha because she stalked him and kidnapped his dog. She desperately wants to convince him that she's a good girl now, but, of course, she only freaks him out by continuing to stalk him to relay that news.

What causes her to cry, spontaneously and quite mysteriously, is just hearing the song "We've Got the Beat," which plays several times during the episode. At one point she's in an ice-cream shop with her mom, it comes on the radio and she suddenly has a breakdown. It also happens when she's in the car of the guy she's stalking and, finally, at episode's end, when we find out why it makes her break down. In a flashback scene, we see nasty ole Samantha being picked up by her dad after she exits a beauty salon that's botched her 'do.

"Oh, my god, they butchered my face on purpose!" screams nasty ole Samantha. "I was a shoo-in for homecoming court, but now I'm hideous."

Her dad tries to take her mind off things by turning on the car radio. When Samantha hears "We've Got the Beat" playing, she fumes, "Oh, my god, I hate this song, and I hate this car and I hate your shirt and I just I just …!" Diva meltdown follows.

That's the one problem with this episode submission. Often she's annoying, even when she's in the skin of nice, new Samantha. This episode opens with her getting into a car while toting a rifle and a bad 'tude. At attempt to get close to her dad has failed. She tried to go hunting with him, but that flopped and now she's returning the gun to the store.

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Photos below, from top: First scene of episode with Sam in a car returning the rifle; the guy who has the restraining order against her sees Sam and flees; Sam crashes her dad's hunting gig so she can spend time with him, but that's disastrous; Sam cries when she hears "We've Got the Beat" in the ice-cream shop; ole nasty Sam not at all happy about her new haircut.

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(Photos: ABC)

For the first 10 or 15 minutes of this episode, she's not at all endearing, but, if voters stick with the DVD, they'll get a big, redeeming payoff at the end.

"I wasn't very easy, was I?" nice, new Samantha asks her dad about her past.

"We got along great when you were a kid," he replies. "You were daddy's little girl, but when you got older, you went insane, completely nuts. Your mother said it was normal, but I just didn't know what to say anymore and finally I stopped trying."

Sweetly, tenderly, she exclaims, "I need my daddy!" and she cuddles up next to him in the car, dropping her head on his shoulder.


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