"The Return of Jezebel James" / Stacey Nosek
TV Reviews | March 18, 2008 | Comments ()
An old co-worker of mine used to constantly insist that I reminded him of Parker Posey, presumably due to my brand of perky, yet deadpan sarcasm. I’ll throw an insult with a smile on my face and a twinkle in my eye, and you won’t even know what hit you. And although I belittled him for liking a “chick movie” after I dutifully returned his copy of Clockwatchers — which he had loaned me to prove his point (and which I also secretly liked) — I always relished the comparison. So maybe that’s part of the reason why “The Return of Jezebel James” was so painful to watch, because for the first time since being compared to Parker Posey, I was actually embarrassed to be compared to Parker Posey. This show was just so inexplicably bad that it somehow even managed to suck the charm and wit right out of the seasoned comedic actress, to the point that I cringed almost every time she opened her mouth.
Helmed by “Gilmore Girls” creator Amy Sherman, “Jezebel James” uses the same method of fast-paced, snappy dialogue that “Gilmore Girls” was known for, which was something people seemed to love or hate about the show. Unfortunately, while this style of banter excels on a non-traditional sitcom like “Sports Night,” it flounders under the brightly lit sets and cripplingly heavy laugh tracks of “Jezebel James.” All of the characters, particularly Posey, sound as if they’re reciting their lines on speed and are one caffeine pill away from a Jesse Spano-style meltdown. Even the few jokes that actually work in theory (and probably sounded good on paper) are drowned out by the incessant buzzing of banter and canned laughs. For instance, when a kid collecting money in the opening segment of the pilot (Posey’s character is a children’s book editor), he asks her why she killed off his favorite book character, and she replies that she didn’t “kill” him, she just made him die faster and with a “fancier font.” But even mildly successful punch lines can’t breathe in the rapid-fire, bludgeoning, practically yelling-the-lines manic delivery of “Jezebel James.”
Oh, and then there’s the plot, which would be the whole other problem with the show. Posey plays the aforementioned children’s book editor, Sarah Tompkins. Betcha thought her name was gonna be Jezebel James, huh? No, well short-story short, the show’s title comes from “The Return of Jezebel James,” a book Sarah is working on which was based on her sister’s imaginary friend. So… Good to know that the title of the series will have almost no direct relevance to 95% of the plot. Sarah is your stereotypical self-centered, high-strung career woman, fresh off of a failed long-term relationship. So, despite the fact that she seems blissfully egocentric in life, Sarah decides that she wants a baby. Right now. Tick, tick, tick, and all that bullshit. And while she actually happens to already be involved in a casual sexual relationship with a virile and successful man (who’s name I won’t bother relaying since I care that little) she goes to see a doctor about artificial insemination, and is subsequently told that she can’t get pregnant because of some disorder she has.
All of this making zero sense? Splendid. Because now it’s time for the harebrained part! Instead of adopting, because she doesn’t like the idea of “strangers using her bathroom” (haw haw!) Sarah recruits her estranged sister, the asininely named “Coco” (Lauren Ambrose) — who looks absolutely nothing like her, even in the loosest “TV siblings” sense of the word — to incubate the kid. Ambrose is additionally every bit as wasted in the part as you’d imagine, playing a watered-down, one-dimensional version of her character on “Six Feet Under.” It’s as if the producers were like, “Yeah! Like that! Only make it suckier!” Of course, even though the two sisters have nothing in common and harbor a long-standing dislike and distrust of each other, Coco decides to move in to her sister’s ridiculously ginormous, two-level Manhattan apartment, (which makes the Drummond penthouse look like a shack, because, she’s children’s book editor, right?) giving us the odd-couple theme of the show. They’re nothing alike, but now they’re stuck together! Comedy gold!
I suppose the biggest problem with “Jezebel James” is that the entire series is based on a cockamamie plot that would have worked as an arc on a stronger series … *cough* “Friends” *cough*. And it probably doesn’t help that this plot is already full of holes and belief suspenders by the first episode. Not to mention the fact that Posey’s character comes off unsympathetic and unlikable, and we’ve no reason to either believe that she would want a baby or root for her to have one. However in spite of all that, and while there’s no mistaking that it is bad, it still probably isn’t half as bad as your “According to Jim’s” and “Two and a Half Men’s” out there. So maybe I’m being just a little hard on it due to the high expectations associated with the spectacular talent recruited for the series. It’s just like, what the hell is the point of getting Parker Posey and Lauren Ambrose to do a show that just sucks right off the bat? You might as well ask DaVinci to paint a turd. No matter what the talent behind it, you’re still just left with a painting of a turd, and nobody wants that.
Stacey Nosek is the world’s most articulate idiot, and a television columnist for Pajiba. You can also find her ripping on celebrities at Webster’s Is My Bitch.