Amy Sherman-Palladino is an extremely gifted writer, as anyone who watched Gilmore Girls can tell you. Which is why it’s sad to see her misstep so decidedly with her latest project, Fox’s half-hour comedy The Return of Jezebel James.
For starters, the show feels like it was compiled from instructions found in Sitcoms for Dummies. Uptight, slightly loopy female lead? Check. Nervous, nerdy male assistant? Check. Offbeat, rebellious younger sister? Check. Eccentric yet goodhearted parents? Check check. Now force those odd-couple siblings into an implausible partnership via some weak plot points and you’ve got a recipe for… absolutely nothing special.
Parker Posey–an undeniably talented actress–is woefully miscast here as Sarah, a single, thirtysomething professional woman who finds out she can’t get pregnant and asks her estranged sister to play surrogate mom for her. Famous for playing brittle, strident characters, Posey seems out of her element as a sit-com lead. It doesn’t help that the character as written is unconscionably inconsistent. Sarah is all over the map: a wry, control-freak professional woman one minute, a bundle of flailing neuroses the next, and a level-headed paragon of interpersonal relations still later. Yet through all this she never manages to emit one genuine-feeling emotion.
Her sister Coco (Lauren Ambrose), by contrast is so woefully underdrawn that even by the end of the second episode we have no real idea of who she is or why. Ambrose may as well be a piece of scenery for all the character development she’s allowed.
But perhaps the biggest problem with Jezebel James is simply the format. Sherman-Palladino’s dialogue–sparkly, hyperarticulate, rapid-fire, and laden with more pop-culture references than the average human can absorb–feels forced and clunky when it’s squeezed into a half-hour structure and tortured by constant laugh-track interruptions. There’s simply no room in a traditional sitcom for the kind of intricate interactions that elevated Gilmore Girls to greatness.
This is not to say Jezebel James is horrible–it’s not, especially compared to a lot of the dreck masquerading as comedy these days. It’s just a huge disappointment when you know how much more Sherman-Palladino can offer.