The Return of Jezebel James -- An early look
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.