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All The Elements Are In Place For 'Jezebel James' To Be A Quality Sitcom

Andrew Payne Andrew Payne
March 18th, 2008 8:44am EDT
The Return of Jezebel James"The Return of Jezebel James" debuted this week with a two-part premiere featuring the pilot and the series' second episode. FOX, in their infinite wisdom, chose to bury these first two installments in the abyss of the Friday night timeslot, which is really a shame as the series begins on a very strong note.

"James" is the return to television for Amy Sherman-Palladino. She is best as the auteur behind "Gilmore Girls". Previously she wrote for more conventional sitcoms including "Roseanne" and "Veronica's Closet." Her new show brings many of the elements from "Gilmore Girls" into the framework of a conventional sitcom.

Parker Posey stars as Sarah Thomkins, a common-law divorcee and children's book editor who goes to great lengths to eschew her personal life in favor of her career.

The Return of Jezebel James

Following a discussion with her father (Ron McLarty), Sarah decides she wants to have a baby. Unfortunately, she has something called Asherman's Syndrome that has rendered her barren.

Sarah reaches out to her little sister, Coco (Lauren Ambrose) and offers her a job as a surrogate. Coco is a transient ne'er-do-well currently residing on her friend's couch. Sarah attempts to entice her with a room of her own in a spacious loft and a fee for her trouble. But it's a book Sarah is editing, "The True Adventures of Jezebel James," that entices Coco more than anything: Jezebel James was her imaginary friend as a child, and despite the fact the two have rarely spoken for the past several years, Sarah has obviously thought enough of her sister to draw inspiration for a book.

The second episode, "Frankenstein Baby", finds Sarah and Coco trying to adapt to each other's style. Sarah's apartment is straight from a Pottery Barn catalog with a sense of organization that would be the envy of even the most obsessive of control freaks. This atmosphere is off-putting to Coco who seems to enjoy a bit of chaos and doesn't understand her sister's need for a catalog-friendly home.

The pair attempt to bond, but their differences soon lead to a bout of shouting that is quickly interrupted by the arrival of their parents. Sarah explains her plan to their parents and both are put off by the scheme, particularly her mother (Dianne Wiest!) who remarks that her first grandchild will turn out like the titular creation.

That evening, Sarah's torrid tryst with Marcus ("Gilmore" alum Scott Cohen) is frequently interrupted by phone calls from her sister. This upsets the pair's rule of no phone calls and no personal business, just sex.

Sarah returns home to discover Coco reading love letters from her old boyfriend after finding her diary too boring. Sarah is at first furious at seeing this but soon relents when she realizes Coco is only trying to learn something about her stranger of a sister. The two bond over Coco's story of an adventurous year in Spain.

All the elements are in place for "Jezebel James" to turn into a quality sitcom. Much of the creator's quirky charm from "Gilmore Girls" carries over in the form of kitschy household items (a pair of "Hello Kitty" cell phones) and pop culture-laded rapid fire dialogue that sounds like it's written by the female love child of David Mamet and Quentin Tarantino. None of this is quite as funny as it was in the town of Star's Hollow, but the laughs occur with enough frequency that the humor level never dips too low.

Another element Sherman-Palladino includes is the relationship between Coco and Sarah. After finishing a series mainly concerned with how mothers and daughters relate to one another, the creator has turned her focus on sisterhood. The Thomkins are extremely different, but there is a love present in these first two episodes that seems very genuine, and watching the two grow together through the trials of surrogacy is certain to make for compelling television.

But these are only elements, and "Jezebel" has a long way to go before it can be elevated to a spot alongside the titans of the sitcom world. If the elements are not nurtured properly, the series is certain to fall victim to its several problems.

The most glaring issue present in the first two episodes is the performance of Posey. The zip-crazy dialogue that seemed so effortless when spoken by Alexis Bledel and Lauren Graham now feels forced and clumsy coming from Posey. Ambrose does a better job of handling the unique verbiage, but not by much. The result can feel very labored at times, which is extremely troubling for a show aiming for a breezy charm. Also, it's hard to imagine a dimwitted character like Sarah rising to the top of the publishing industry.

The good does outweigh the bad on this series, however, with enough charm and humor to make it a pleasant watch for a half-hour. If it continues to build on its solid framework and the stars become more comfortable with the unique dialogue, this could become a massive hit.

The problem is that this series will most likely never get a chance to blossom. For some reason, FOX failed to see its potential and absolutely buried it on their schedule.

The series is already much better than shows like "Samantha Who?" and "'Til Death," which both became substantial hits when paired with the reality kings "Dancing with the Stars" and "American Idol", respectively. "James" certainly would have enjoyed similar success were it paired with "Idol," and those initial ratings would give audiences a chance the series' potential realized and likely growth into a standout sitcom.

With a paltry 3.1 million viewers for the premiere (about half the viewers "Friday Night Lights" receives) it's unlikely we'll ever get that chance.

Recap by Andrew Payne
Starpulse contributing writer