New Fox sitcom lacks old magic

By Chuck Barney

New Fox sitcom lacks old magic

No happy returns for Fox sitcom ‘Jezebel James’

“The Return of Jezebel James,” a new sitcom from Fox, is proof that even super-talented producers with genuinely distinctive voices can sometimes blow it.

“Jezebel” (8 tonight) comes to us from Amy Sherman-Palladino, the woman who created the tender-hearted and delightfully offbeat “Gilmore Girls.” Like that show, “Jezebel” predominantly focuses on a relationship between two female family members. It also contains a lot of the spirited and witty banter that made the gals from Stars Hollow such a joy to watch.

But for various reasons, things just don’t meld as smoothly this time around.

“Jezebel” tells the story of Sarah Tompkins (Parker Posey), an editor of children’s books who seems to have it all: An absolutely gorgeous loft in Brooklyn, a no-strings-attached relationship with a handsome guy (Scott Cohen), a healthy bank account and a rewarding job at HarperCollins.

But there’s one thing she doesn’t have that she desperately craves: A baby.

The only trouble is Sarah’s doctor has just informed her that she can’t conceive. Initially, Sarah is in denial. After all, she has always been able to accomplish things when she puts her mind to it — like the time in high school when she taught herself how to do a cartwheel just to join the cheerleader squad.

But babies aren’t cartwheels, she’s told.

Finally, and reluctantly, Sarah turns to her younger sister, Coco (Lauren Ambrose). Despite the fact that they have been estranged for years and that Coco — free-spirited and flaky — is her polar opposite, Sarah begs sis to be her surrogate. Much sibling-rivalry angst and dredging up of the bitter past ensues.

The show’s premise doesn’t hold much logic. Why would a goal-oriented, and ultra-fussy career woman suddenly take such a risk with her most precious commodity? But improbability isn’t even “Jezebel’s” biggest problem. Neither is a grating laugh track.

Unlike Lorelai and Rory, these women aren’t particularly sympathetic. Coco, all acerbic and rough edges, is your basic brat. In the hands of Ambrose, however, at least she’s somewhat interesting. As for Sarah, well, she just gets on your nerves.

And here lies the biggest disappointment of “Jezebel.” We have long loved Posey and her quirky art-house persona, and we greatly anticipated her arrival to series television. But in attempting to deliver Sherman-Palladino’s hyper-verbal, rat-a-tat-tat dialogue, she comes off as stunningly stilted, robotic and even vacant. While watching her, I kept imagining Lauren Graham delivering the same lines and bringing more emotional texture to them.

Sadly, Graham is missing, and so is much of the old “Gilmore” magic.

Jezebel, by the way, is the name of a character in one of Sarah’s books — and based on an old “imaginary friend” from Coco’s childhood. We can only imagine that she just might make a more interesting subject.

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