If not for its late start, CBS's "Viva Laughlin" (10 p.m. Thursday, KDKA) would be a prime contender for first cancellation of the season. It's not because the show is a musical drama (or "drama with music," as the producers prefer to call it), but because it's so tentative.
Fans of BBC America's "Viva Blackpool," on which "Viva Laughlin" is based, will be especially disappointed. Where characters in the British original sang and danced along with famous songs with gusto, in "Laughlin," the characters sing little and dance even less.
It's the typical reaction to something different: Copy the format, but, out of fear over how viewers will react to the unusual, water it down. What you end up with is neither fish nor fowl. And that's one of the problems with "Viva Laughlin."
Ripley Holden (Lloyd Owen) wants to open a casino, but one of his key backers pulls out. He tries to get financial assistance from rival Nicky Fontana (guest star Hugh Jackman) and tries to woo the key backer's wife (Melanie Griffith) by dueting on "One Way or Another."
When the backer shows up dead in Ripley's office, he's suspected of the murder by cop Peter Carlyle (Eric Winter, too baby-faced for the role), and the murder investigation will be an ongoing story.
Owen's Holden is a defanged version of the original, sleazier character in "Viva Blackpool." He has a wife (Madchen Amick) and kids, who also figure into the story.
Starring: Melanie Griffin.
Starring: Christina Applegate.
Jackman fans are advised not to get too excited about his appearance in the "Laughlin" premiere. He's expected to turn up on the show occasionally, but his Nicky Fontana has been given a lieutenant (D.B. Woodside) who will likely function as Fontana's stand-in in business dealings with Ripley.
After "Cop Rock," anything reminiscent of that failure is a risky venture, but "Viva Laughlin" is such a half-hearted effort, it's not substantial enough to become the punchline "Cop Rock" still is in TV circles today.
After Thursday's preview, "Laughlin" will regularly air at 8 p.m. Sunday.
A better question than this show's title: Who at ABC is lacking a sense of humor? The network keeps developing these single-camera comedies that would not wow the audience at the Chuckle Factory. Two weeks ago ABC premiered "Carpoolers," the latest in a string of laughtrack-free, laugh-free comedy series. None have worked, yet someone at ABC persists in this pointless pursuit.
ABC's "Samantha Who?" (9:30 p.m. Monday, WTAE) is better than most, but only through the talent of its lead, Christina Applegate, and honestly, she deserves better. If "Samantha" is mostly a lemon, well, Applegate at least makes bracing, tart lemonade.
She stars as Samantha Newly, who wakes from a coma and can't remember anything about who she is, what she does, who her family members are.
Her mom (Jean Smart) hopes to use her Coma Daughter to snag a remodel from "Extreme Makeover: Home Edition," her best friend (Jennifer Esposito, "Related") is just glad to have her drinking buddy back, and her boyfriend (Barry Watson, "What About Brian") is distressed that he's going to have to break up with Sam all over again.
Why break up with her? Because Old Sam was not a nice person. New Sam is nicer, although occasionally her inner Old Sam makes a cameo appearance.
Applegate is amusingly daffy as blank-slate New Sam, discovering her past and expressing shock and some dismay that, "Ohhhh, I'm bad!"
But like so many other shows in recent years, this concept would work better as a one-shot movie than as a weekly series. The fact that Sam is surrounded by not particularly likable characters -- including Old Sam -- reinforces that notion.
"Samantha Who?" More like, "Samantha Why?"