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The Return of Jezebel James -- An early look

by Joel Keller, posted Mar 11th 2008 11:03AM
The Return of Jezebel JamesIf you're a fan of Amy Sherman-Palladino -- which pretty much means you were a fan of Gilmore Girls -- you've been eagerly awaiting the arrival of her new FOX sitcom, The Return of Jezebel James.

Unfortunately, if you're a fan of Sherman-Palladino's, you're going to end up pretty disappointed. The two episodes that FOX sent out for review were not only devoid of laughs, but uncomfortably paced as well. The pacing is something that's important to note, given the unique dialogue that AS-P and her husband, Daniel Palladino, are known for.

But the most disappointing thing about the show is that it's miscast, in the biggest way possible.

More on that in a second. First, the gist: Sarah Tompkins (Parker Posey) is a hard-driving children's book editor who is so successful that she has her own imprint at HarperCollins (think Judith Regan if she got into the tweener book business). She's got it all: the job, the skittish assistant (Buddy, played by Michael Arden) the great duplex in Brooklyn, a relationship (with marketing guru Marcus, played by Gilmore vet Scott Cohen) that's mainly sex... but she wants a kid. And she doesn't just want a kid because her parents (Ron McLarty and Dianne Wiest; only McLarty is in the pilot) are bugging her to settle down; she really wants one.

When she finds out that she can't get pregnant, she turns to her ne'er-do-well sister Coco (Lauren Ambrose), whom she hasn't seen in a couple of years, and asks her to be the surrogate. The deal: Coco has to live with Sarah through the entire process. Coco is reluctant at first, but changes her mind after reading a book that brings to life her imaginary childhood friend, Jezebel James. It turns out that Sarah remembered Jezebel from their childhood and went to great lengths to make sure the character got her own book series.

If you were to look at the pieces of this show, all the elements are there to make this a perfect AS-P production: rapid-fire dialogue, pop culture references, a pretty brunette in the lead, and a strong female relationship at its core. But what worked in Gilmore Girls doesn't work here. The choice to make Jezebel James a traditional multi-camera sitcom, complete with audience / laugh track, was the first mistake. As I said when I saw the first version of the pilot earlier this summer, AS-P's writing works better when it builds some momentum and almost reaches a sing-songy quality; to interrupt the flow in order to pause for the laugh track breaks that momentum.

But the main problem here -- and boy, it pains me to write this -- is Posey. She doesn't know whether Sarah is haughty, neurotic, obnoxious, vulnerable, or everything at once. Yes, Sarah seems to be barely in control of her own life, so she should be all over the place. But Posey is so busy trying to get through the thick line readings that she hasn't been able to get a good read on the character, and that didn't improve in the second episode, where Sarah and Coco try to hammer out a contract. Her performance may improve with time, but for now it's painful to watch.

Ambrose is OK; she's given more to do in the second episode than in the first. One of the more hopeful things about the show is that she has good chemistry with Posey, especially in the second episode. If Posey can get her act together, they might have something there.

They'll have to overcome the leaden script, though. AS-P strains to combine her unique style with the conventions of the traditional sitcom -- repeated one-liners about how determined Sarah was to learn to cartwheel, for instance -- and it all falls flat.

With the upcoming onslaught of established shows returning, Jezebel James is going to get lost. Considering FOX has seen fit to shove the show in a Friday death slot, there doesn't seem to be much hope that the show will have a chance to improve (also the fact that FOX cut the episode order from 13 to 7 doesn't sound encouraging, either). Which is just as well; maybe the Palladinos can chalk this up as a failed experiment and begin developing what they do best: hour-long dramadies.

The Return of Jezebel James premieres Wednesday at 9:30 PM ET; it settles into it's normal timeslot on Friday at 8:30 PM ET.

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eric f

Oh No. tried to watch this one with the best intentions, but Parker Posey was horrible and the laugh track made it even worse, particularly because there was nothing funny.

I didn't get more than 15 minutes into it before I had to escape the uncomfortable torture, and I am pretty easy to please.

March 15 2008 at 10:16 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
wberkij

watched both episodes, nothing special, time waster for those that stay home on Friday nights with not a thought
in their heads.

March 14 2008 at 10:04 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Greg

I saw the pilot months ago (around summertime, I think) and I rather enjoyed the pilot. Posey is hit or miss, true, but she wasn't so troublesome to the show as you think she is (in my opinion, anyhow).

No, the biggest issue I had was the use of a laugh-track. It's really jarring. But I suppose with the rapid-fire dialogue and the references that will no doubt go over people's heads (like on Gilmore), it may be sort of necessary. Maybe they'll back off of it gradually, like they did on Sports Night.

Also, the other thing against it (or perhaps for it, depending on your perspective) is a movie called "Baby Mama" which is almost the EXACT same plot (I don't think they're sisters in the movie), starring Tina Fey and Amy Poehler in the Posey and Ambrose roles respectively.

As for the show, considering (already stated) it's on Fox and they reduced the episode order, as well as delayed the premiere, it's doomed from the start.

March 12 2008 at 12:58 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Justin

This is sad to read. As a guy I had no interest in Gilmore Girls but when I saw a preview for this a few weeks back, I was stoked to see Parker and Lauren on a show. I figured it probably wouldn't be great but I'd give it chance. I still will but I'm glad someone brought my expectations back to earth so I wasn't too disappointed.

March 11 2008 at 7:52 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Oreo

You can not blame the WB for the mess that Gilmore Girls became, that was 100% the writers fault. High school years were great, the first college year was fine. Everything was fine until Rory and Dean slept together. They should have had the characters realize that it was a mistake and have Dean move away for good. After that I stopped caring, and the characters went down the drain so quickly it was stunning.

March 11 2008 at 3:34 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Bailey

AS-P didn't torpedo or kill off Gilmore Girls - their swan song had been playing for awhile, and the network decided to let it go too long. And she certainly took no glee in it - I think she actually loved those characters, and that's what it takes to make a truly enjoyable script. So maybe they'll grow into this one as they get a feel for the actors and the new format. However, this doesn't look like the best situation for improvement.

March 11 2008 at 2:50 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
gadlaw

Thanks for the warning. After Amy Sherman-Palladino and others took such glee in killing off Gilmore Girls the day will be a cold cold one before I ever watch anything she does. She didn't respect the fans, the stories, the characters or the actors and generally thought she could do no wrong. Her new show would have to be completely great to even have a chance people might look at it. That's not even the case apparently.Too bad she doesn't have any goodwill left with the fans who might cut her a break while she 'fixes' this latest disaster show.

March 11 2008 at 2:30 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
R-Bro

I've always disliked Parker Posey for some reason. Could have something to do with the fact that she's almost always playing the b---- in her movies...

March 11 2008 at 1:11 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to R-Bro's comment
Gig

That just means she is a good actress. She makes you dislike what is supposed to be an unlikeable character.

March 11 2008 at 2:26 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Ryan

Things going against it:

1. It's on FOX.
2. ASP's most loyal fans (from Gilmore Girls), i.e. the target audience, are still pissed at the botch job they did with the finale seasons of Gilmore Girls.
3. It's on FOX.
4. Will get lost in the shuffle of returning shows.
5. It's on FOX.

Things going for it:

1. It's on Friday so... low expectations.
2. Parker Posey and Lauren Ambrose are usually great so their fans may tune in.
3. Um... it's not a reality show? (Or does this belong in the top list nowadays?)

March 11 2008 at 1:01 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Gig

FOX doesn't think much of the show. Sticking it on Friday night is a death sentence.

March 11 2008 at 12:30 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

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