I watched The Return of Jezebel James pilot while eating soup out of a mug emblazoned with the logo of The Dragonfly Inn, the fictional inn from Gilmore Girls. I loved Amy Sherman-Palladino's last show so much I bought merchandise (I also have a Luke's Diner t-shirt). I've been waiting to see what she'd do next ever since she left Gilmore Girls before the seventh season. I'd heard about The Return of Jezebel James over the summer and was excited for it. Parker Posey, Lauren Ambrose, and Sherman-Palladino? Sounded good to me! When Fox slotted it for Fridays at 8pm, and I heard that it was going to be a multi-camera, 30-minute sitcom. I started to worry.
Sherman-Palladino cut her teeth writing on Roseanne, so I suppose if anyone is going to be able to breathe new life into the 30-minute, multi-camera, laugh track sitcom, she could do it. From the first moments, though, Jezebel James just didn't click. (It didn't help for me that one of the first lines of the pilot was a joke at the expense of librarians. Coming from Parker Posey, no less, a heroine to hip librarians everywhere after her role in Party Girl.) The laugh track is totally awkward with Sherman-Palladino's trademark fast-paced dialogue, and the traditional sitcom format isn't a good match for the subject matter.
Jezebel James introduces us to two different sisters; Sarah (Posey), a successful children's book editor who wants a child but is physically incapable of carrying one, and Coco (Ambrose), her estranged, free-spirited younger sister, who she asks to move in with her and carry the baby. Both actresses give uneven performances; they have good moments, but it seems like they're not really sure how broad the comic moments should be, or how much to play up the dramatic angles. Although there is potential for chemistry between them (they really seem like sisters for the first time when they band together to face their parents), they don't quite mesh yet. The show's title (in case you're confused about who the heck Jezebel James is if she isn't one of the sisters) refers to Coco's imaginary friend from childhood. Sarah has published a successful series of young adult books based on the character.
The Return of Jezebel James has its moments. There are some bits of dialogue that would have been right at home in Stars Hollow. The casting has potential, particularly Dianne Wiest as Sarah and Coco's mother and Scott Cohen as Sarah's boyfriend. (His turn as Lorelai's fiance, Max, gave him plenty of practice playing befuddled boyfriend to a quirky Sherman-Palladino heroine.) However, I think in order to fix the show, it would need to go all the way back to the drawing board and be turned into a one-hour dramedy, with more emphasis on the poignant moments and supporting characters.
Truly great television shows like Gilmore Girls are lightening in a bottle. You can line up the perfect writers and cast, have a great concept, but in the end, two plus two doesn't always end up to four. Jezebel James has been relegated to Fridays at 8pm, where shows go to die, especially if they're on Fox. In the unlikely event that it lasts longer than the six episodes that have already been shot, I hope that Amy Sherman-Palladino will consider making some changes. There's a decent show somewhere under all that canned laughter.
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Amy Kane spends as much quality time with her television as possible, when she's not busy at her day job as a cube dweller.