The Return of Jezebel James, a sitcom premiering tonight on Fox, has all the trappings of a quirky, must-see comedy: it's the "brainchild" of Gilmore Girls' creator Amy Sherman-Palladino! It stars wacky indie "It Girl" Parker Posey! It has some reference to Brooklyn! And yet, the critics all find the show flat. (We suspected as much.) The premise is a basic Odd Couple formula: Sarah (Posey) is a hard-working editor who wants a child but cannot conceive, so she enlists the uterus of her estranged, bohemian sister, Coco (Lauren Ambrose), and makes Coco move into her fabulous New York apartment. Comedy gold, right? Eh, maybe not. Some disappointed reviews, after the jump.
...Upon viewing the pilot and an early episode, it is impossible not to feel a little ripped off. Like getting the Tiffany box, with the white satin bow, and opening it to find... a Starbucks gift card. For 10 bucks. There are worse gifts you could get, sure, and there are worse shows than Jezebel James... The problem is that from these folks you expect a fascinating female lead, but you get instead every uptight, cellphone-clenching, relationship-avoiding, food-issue-riven working woman you've ever seen (and never met).
Among the disillusioning aspects of the new comedy The Return of Jezebel James is the presence of a laugh track, there as if it were a spoonful of peanut butter on a pizza. What business does it have? The question arises because Jezebel is the creation of Amy Sherman-Palladino, a writer who has set her own standards far above convention. On her previous venture, the great, departed Gilmore Girls, the funny lines — about Norman Mailer, Noam Chomsky, Christiane Amanpour, well-known newspaper editors, op-ed columnists, old movies, Susan Faludi — came with such velocity that no laugh track would ever have been able to keep up.
There is too little Ambrose/Posey interaction in the pilot, but in the second episode — when Coco moves in and the two start haggling over the surrogacy contract — Sherman-Palladino's knack for chick dialogue shows some of its old promise. Alas...stories from the just-had-a-baby/about-to-have-a-baby dynamic are rarely as funny as Sex and the City. Or even Friends (remember: Rachel essentially had to put baby Emma in the closet with her purse collection to keep that show going a few more seasons)... Will Jezebel last long enough for the little rugrat to get born?
Perhaps because of the need to establish the premise, Sherman-Palladino doesn't allow Sarah to become anything approaching a flesh-and-blood character, racing from set-up to punchline without much emotion, disappointment or anything else that might humanize her. Nor does Coco fare especially well in the pilot, and a second half-hour (the two are airing together to create a one-hour premiere) proves equally irritating, as they squabble through a meeting to hash out their surrogacy agreement.
Shows like [Gilmore Girls] are something rare, as Fox's The Return of Jezebel James amply demonstrates. In this new sitcom, the stories are exaggerated, the premise is incredible and the chemistry is almost nonexistent.
Although Jezebel is packed with Sherman-Palladino's trademark snappy banter, it's a cold, brittle misfire. Fast-paced, tart dialogue isn't enough to sustain a show if the people reeling it off aren't worth spending time with.
Sherman-Palladino forces the sisters on each other out of an almost crippling sense of joint self-interest that's as painful as it is illogical. Supposedly, the two bond when Sarah tells Coco the name of her new book series: Jezebel James, after Coco's childhood imaginary friend. It's weak grounds for motherhood, and even weaker for comedy.