“Jezebel James” returns, but should she have?

You know that saying, “Looks
good on paper”? Everything about The Return of Jezebel
James
looked
good on paper. Bring together the original Queen of the Indies Parker Posey,

Six Feet Under darling Lauren Ambrose
and Gilmore Girls mastermind Amy Sherman-Palladino and, on paper, the result should be sheer genius. But, in reality,
oh dear no.

The show’s two-episode
premiere last Friday showed us the sad reality of potential unmet as
set to the tone-deafening clatter of a laugh track. The setup is pretty
simple. A pair of estranged sisters reunite when the older sister Sarah
(Parker), an uptight children’s book editor, asks her younger sister
Coco (Lauren), a directionless slacker, to be her surrogate. At this
point you might be thinking, hey, the whole surrogacy thing worked for

Juno. At this point, you would be wrong.

Jezebel James fails to work
as either a zany odd-couple comedy or a touching sister-bonding story.
The characters feel flat and forced, the dialogue is smug instead of
snappy. Were there funny moments? Sure; this is still Amy and Parker
and Lauren we’re talking about here. But the potential
was so tangible, it makes the show’s inevitable weaknesses even more
glaring.

One of the biggest problems,
besides the (expletive deleted) laugh track (seriously, make it stop,
please, make it stop) is series star Parker. Now, this hurts to say,
since I’ve loved Parker since her Party Girl
days. But, let’s face it, everyone has strength and weaknesses. Parker’s
strengths are an off-kilter zaniness coupled with Yankee enthusiasm.
She does irony (e.g., every Christopher Guest
film
, ever) brilliantly.
But snark coupled with pop culture minutiae, à la Gilmore Girls,

is another skill set entirely.

That said, an actor must work
with what she is given, and therein lies another problem. The writing
is off. The kind of lightning-quick, light-as-air banter between Lorelai
(Lauren Graham) and Rory (Alexis Bledel) doesn’t work
here because instead of being complementary foils, Sarah and Coco are
adversarial strangers. Sure, at some point they might work up to that
finish-each-other’s-sentences mind meld. But right now they’re just
getting to know each other again. So Sherman-Palladino has been reduced
to getting-to-know-you humor and my-aren’t-we-different gags.

Also, what’s with the character
whiplash? From the pilot to the second episode, Sarah goes from a townhouse
to the world’s most spacious Brooklyn loft. She also goes from woman
who has errant jelly on her shirt, hair and knee to woman who obsessively
puts up pink Post-It notes containing instructions for Coco. And, as long
as I’m bitching, what’s with the name Coco? Sarah and Coco?

Can it be fixed? Sure, with
time and consistency. Will it be fixed? Well, since Fox slashed the
series order
from
13 to 7, that seems unlikely. Keep in mind, we’ve already seen
two, leaving only five more episodes to hit their stride. I’ve seen
one of the later episodes and it is, indeed, a little better. But with
the tick-tock of the clock and Fox’s somewhat itchy trigger finger,
Jezebel James may become yet another casualty of the “Good on paper/bad
in reality” syndrome.

So, what did you think? Disagree?
Laughed all 30 minutes? Didn’t laugh even once? Discuss.

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