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The Return of Jezebel James aired from March 14-21, 2008 on FOX.
Sarah (Parker Posey) had everything a fancy girl could want in life: her own imprint at HarperCollins children's division; a great big loft in Brooklyn; a young, energetic and only slightly terrified assistant, Buddy (Michael Arden); and a perfect, no-strings-attached relationship with successful businessman Marcus (Scott Cohen). She was about to publish the sequel to her successful young adult novel, The True Adventures of Jezebel James, she could do the splits, and she was basically a size 2 so what on Earth could make this better?
When Sarah's father, Ronald (Ron McLarty) a man who took other people's crap, fixed it, and then dumped it at his daughter's house and mother Talya (Dianne Wiest) reminded Sarah that her life was not complete, she became irritated. This was a tune she'd heard before. Where are the grandchildren? Did she think her parents were going to live forever? Did she think she was going to live forever? Sarah finally took the nagging to heart and decided, why not? There was no husband, but she could do this without a husband. After all, she had done everything else without a husband. Decision made.
And then, suddenly, she heared the words she thought she'd never hear: You can't. Her doctor told her that she couldn't have a baby. She could adopt, she could consider other options, but she couldn't do this herself. Sarah was stunned. Impossible; she could do anything. There had to be a way around this.
Enter Coco (Lauren Ambrose). Coco was Sarah's younger and, let's say, way less focused, sister. Coco was Sarah's polar opposite, down to her living situation, which was currently crashing on a couch in a friend's apartment next to a sick dog. Sarah tracked Coco down and made her a proposition. She would hire Coco to carry her child. It would be like a job. A good one. With benefits like a bed.
At first, Coco thought Sarah was crazy. They had nothing in common; they didn't understand each other. This idea was insane. Then Coco found out about Jezebel James. The book that Sarah published, that she nurtured, was based on Coco's imaginary childhood friend. Surprised that Sarah even remembered, touched that she thought enough of it to make it a book, and stunned that anyone had come to her and asked her for anything, Coco agreed to the insane proposal. She would move in with Sarah, and she'd carry her baby. And off they went. Unfortunately ratings were so low that Fox canceled this series after only three episodes had aired...long before any baby was born.
A Review from Variety
The Return of Jezebel James
(Series -- Fox, Fri. March 14, 8 P.M.)
By BRIAN LOWRY
Filmed in New York by Dorothy Parker Drank Here Prods. in association with Regency Television and Fox Television Studios. Executive producers, Amy Sherman-Palladino, Daniel Palladino; producer, Michael Petok; writer-director, Sherman-Palladino;
Sarah Tompkins - Parker Posey
Coco - Lauren Ambrose
Marcus Sonti - Scott Cohen
Buddy - Michael Arden
Ronald - Ron McLarty
Add to "Cashmere Mafia" and "Lipstick Jungle" the have-it-all heroine of this Fox series, which stirs in fertility issues and strained family dynamics to birth a wholly uninspired test-tube comedy. Writer-director Amy Sherman-Palladino developed a reputation for strong female characters in "Gilmore Girls," but the mismatched sisters at the center of "Jezebel James" do little more than bicker, with the few sedate moments offering a welcome respite from a project that's otherwise painfully predictable.
Sarah (Parker Posey) is a successful children's books editor recovering from a fractured relationship in part by engaging in a no-strings, sex-only liaison with a co-worker, Marcus (Scott Cohen). Nevertheless, she's independently decided to become a single mom, only to discover that she's unable to conceive -- a moment unconvincingly played entirely for laughs.
So it's quickly on to Plan B: "I need your uterus," Sarah says by way of reintroduction to her estranged sister Coco ("Six Feet Under's" Lauren Ambrose), a determined slacker she hasn't seen in a year. Sarah will pay her, but the catch is that Coco must move in with her so she can monitor the pregnancy -- turning her sibling, as she puts it, into "An incubator -- with TiVo!"
Perhaps because of the need to establish the premise, Sherman-Palladino doesn't allow Sarah to become anything approaching a flesh-and-blood character, racing from set-up to punchline without much emotion, disappointment or anything else that might humanize her. Nor does Coco fare especially well in the pilot, and a second half-hour (the two are airing together to create a one-hour premiere) proves equally irritating, as they squabble through a meeting to hash out their surrogacy agreement.
The men in their respective lives are equally unsubstantial, and the only purpose served initially by Sarah's workplace is to provide the title, which refers to a children's book plucked from a memory the sisters shared.
Pity poor Posey, forced as she is into a litany of familiar harried working gal/"Odd Couple" scenes -- a tough cookie on the outside who's both a bit of a marshmallow underneath the starched shell and thoroughly disgusted by her sister's low-brow tastes. The snob/free-spirit dichotomy isn't the only disparity, though, and the two actresses look and behave so strikingly differently it's hard to imagine what parental combination could have produced them.
Given Sherman-Palladino's resume, "Jezebel James" might have fared better shaped into an hourlong dramedy, instead of being shoehorned into a lightly serialized sitcom format that plays poorly to her strengths as a writer. Granted, Fox has the benefit of "American Idol" to help promote the show, but the nurturing benefits of that particular incubator should be hard-pressed to overcome the flaws in this baby's execution and creative DNA.
A Review from The New York Times
You're Having My Baby: Two Bickering Sisters, United by Pregnancy
By GINIA BELLAFANTE
Published: March 14, 2008
Among the disillusioning aspects of the new comedy The Return of Jezebel James is the presence of a laugh track, there as if it were a spoonful of peanut butter on a pizza. What business does it have? The question arises because Jezebel is the creation of Amy Sherman-Palladino, a writer who has set her own standards far above convention. On her previous venture, the great, departed Gilmore Girls, the funny lines about Norman Mailer, Noam Chomsky, Christiane Amanpour, well-known newspaper editors, op-ed columnists, old movies, Susan Faludi came with such velocity that no laugh track would ever have been able to keep up.
The Return of Jezebel James feels as though it belongs to someone else, someone just as pent up but nowhere near as ambitious. Having covered the dynamic between mothers and daughters, Ms. Sherman-Palladino turns her attention to odd-couple sisters, one, Sarah (played by Parker Posey), a neurotic children's book editor who goes to the office in shift dresses and heels, and the other, Coco (Lauren Ambrose), a jaded do-nothing in Frye boots who appears to live in a Chinese restaurant.
Everything about Jezebel feels too broad. In her mid 30s, Sarah is single and wants a child but can't have one. She has been told she has a rare condition called Asherman's syndrome. Asherman's comes from having repetitive D and C's, the kind that often follow miscarriages or abortions, and if you know that tidbit, you're left to wonder whether we're supposed to think of Sarah as someone who never paid much attention in sex ed, a woman suffering from her prior mistakes. If so, then the show loses a lot of the feminist credibility that Ms. Sherman-Palladino has seemed to work so hard to attain.
Sarah's solution, as she sees it, is to ask her younger sister to carry her baby for her. The Return of Jezebel James (which begins Friday on Fox) is, to the best of my knowledge, the first situation comedy ever about gestational surrogacy, and I'm certainly not unwilling to give it props for zeitgeist. But so much else about it is problematic, beginning with Coco's acquiescence, which makes very little sense. The two sisters aren't close and haven't had much contact. They meet up; they argue and patronize each other; but as soon as Coco learns that her sister has based a children's book series around an imaginary friend called Jezebel James that Coco had as a little girl, she agrees to have her baby. Coco doesn't feel exploited or aggrieved, or just momentarily wistful; she feels the sudden desire to put her reproductive organs into a lend-lease program.
Both actresses do well regardless of what's before them. Ms. Posey speaks in a funny cadence that makes everything she says sound like a non sequitur, and it is that loopiness that makes her character likable. It should be said, though, that Jezebel James does not distinguish itself with the kind of attention to detail that marked Gilmore Girls. Sarah lives in a Brooklyn apartment that looks like no Brooklyn apartment I have ever seen, primarily because it has the kind of view you would get if you lived on Fifth Avenue or Central Park West in Manhattan. (We see this place in the second episode. In the pilot, Sarah lives somewhere else entirely somewhere that looks like Westchester.)
Ms. Sherman-Palladino has brought us up to expect far better.
A Review from Entertainment Weekly
The Return of Jezebel James
C-By Alynda Wheat
Amy Sherman-Palladino had exquisite timing with Gilmore Girls, an of-the-moment, hyperarticulate, pop culture-referencing take on women that was as witty as it was charming. Now that the national obsession is babies from Juno's to Brangelina's she offers up The Return of Jezebel James, a sitcom about a career woman looking to park her egg in her sister's uterus. The timing, again, is perfect it's the tone that's off.
The charmless Jezebel stars Parker Posey as Sarah, a children's-book editor who's over 35, single, and infertile. It's a sympathetic situation for an unsympathetic character, Sarah being yet another of Posey's shrill, brittle women (see: You've Got Mail, Best in Show, et al.). Sarah's sister, Coco (Six Feet Under's Lauren Ambrose), is a recovering addict whose home is a friend's couch. Ambrose seems befuddled by Coco, but that's hardly her fault Jezebel is full of slippery notions. Such as, why ask your estranged, ne'er-do-well sister to be your surrogate? And why should Coco accept? It can't just be for the nice digs and free cable.
Sherman-Palladino forces the sisters on each other out of an almost crippling sense of joint self-interest that's as painful as it is illogical. Supposedly, the two bond when Sarah tells Coco the name of her new book series: Jezebel James, after Coco's childhood imaginary friend. It's weak grounds for motherhood, and even weaker for comedy. C-
An Article from the LA Times
A sister act that's tough to swallow
March 14, 2008
On paper, The Return of Jezebel James, which premieres on Fox tonight, has so much going for it. It's the brainchild of Amy Sherman-Palladino, who gave us the still-mourned Gilmore Girls. It explores the little-known yet highly fraught world of children's fiction that was so fun in Elf. It stars two lovable and highly gifted actors: former indie picture It girl Parker Posey as Sarah Tompkins, a tightly-wound children's fiction editor, and Lauren Ambrose, who rocked so many worlds on Six Feet Under, as her sullen and boho sister, Coco. (Coco! It has a character named Coco!) They are brought reluctantly together in one apartment, � la The Odd Couple, a tried but true construct made modern with a surrogacy twist Sarah, who cannot conceive, hires Coco to have a baby for her. And, in case you need extra sprinkles on your sundae, Dianne Wiest plays their mother.
And yet upon viewing the pilot and an early episode, it is impossible not to feel a little ripped off. Like getting the Tiffany box, with the white satin bow, and opening it to find a Starbucks gift card. For 10 bucks.
There are worse gifts you could get, sure, and there are worse shows than Jezebel James, though Fox apparently doesn't think so, having cut its initial 13-episode order and choosing to premiere it on the second deadest night of the week (Saturday isn't even a possibility anymore). The problem is that from these folks you expect a fascinating female lead, but you get instead every uptight, cellphone-clenching, relationship-avoiding, food-issue-riven working woman you've ever seen (and never met).
From the moment Posey appears on screen, yammering into a cellphone about notes her assistant has made to her about what to wear and spilling her back story to a neighbor kid collecting money for baseball uniforms her husband has left her, she doesn't care and no, she didn't make him gay Sarah feels as empty and echoing as her sofaless bedroom. And since she is the center of the show, this is a rather immediate problem.
Over the years, Posey has proved herself capable of radiating warmth and likability from behind myriad character tics and eccentricities, but, like the viewer, she seems at sea here. She dutifully hits all the marks she talks really fast because she's multitasking, is perpetually irritated because she's a perfectionist, and has a frosty self-awareness of these things because it's hip to be self-aware. As written, Sarah is more a walking Sunday style column than a recognizable human being, much less a recognizably Parker Posey being. And her irritation quickly grows, well, irritating.
Strangely which is to say, impossibly all Sarah wants is to have a child. (We are supposed to buy this because she seems to have a friendly rapport with a co-worker's grandchild.) When she finds out she cannot conceive, she reaches out to Coco, a young woman so rudderless she is sleeping on a shelf in a Chinese restaurant. Still, Sarah wants Coco to carry a child for her. To which, after a little sniping and potshots, Coco agrees. She does so because Sarah has named a character in a book series Jezebel James and Jezebel James is/was Coco's imaginary friend. Which is, apparently, as good a reason as any to carry a child for your crazy-nuts sister.
Now, I realize that this is a situation comedy and absurdity is part of the production value but let me state for the record: Give me a break.
All evidence to the contrary, the show has the potential of being very funny, but only if the writers can choose subtlety over shtick even a quarter of the time. For a start, it would be nice if Sarah lightened up enough for any thinking person to believe she wants a child looking mistily at a co-worker's granddaughter doesn't cut it, no matter how much exposition you feel you have to jam into a pilot. The poor baby would starve to death while Sarah was checking her e-mail, and frankly so will we.
A Review from the SF Chronicle
Review: 'Return of Jezebel James' infantile
Wednesday, March 12, 2008
Viewers can learn a lot from shows they shouldn't watch. "The Return of Jezebel James" on Fox is a prime example and, as a bonus, it illustrates how networks do business. (Badly.)
This series was one of those classic looks-great-on-paper ideas that goes horribly wrong. Take Amy Sherman-Palladino, acclaimed creator of "Gilmore Girls," and add two wonderful actresses: indie movie queen Parker Posey and "Six Feet Under" alum Lauren Ambrose. Can't fail, right?
See first paragraph above.
To begin with, though "Gilmore Girls" had a wonderful early run, it suffered steep creative declines brought on, one can assume pretty confidently, from Sherman-Palladino believing too much of her press. A gifted writer of snarky, fast-paced comedy but, more important, blessed with Lauren Graham as a lead actress, Sherman-Palladino was able to make "Gilmore Girls" a real revelation on the WB in 2000. It was fresh, inventive and brought a new kind of mother-daughter relationship to television (the mom, played by Graham, was really the child, and the entire thing had a hipness that extended from the pop culture references to the soundtrack). But the more successful the series became, and the more acclaim Sherman-Palladino (who's prone to super-funky attire, including wacky hats that scream "trying way too hard" instead of "eclectic") got, the worse the show got. Ultimately, "Gilmore Girls" spun out of control, and the final season was done entirely without Sherman-Palladino before the show was canceled.
But, in the television business, once you're a talent, you're almost always a talent - the three-strike rule being a close but not definitive example of how often you're given chances after failing. So Fox liked Sherman-Palladino's script for "The Return of Jezebel James" and then, incredibly, the filmed pilot as well.
Pilot aimed at women
That pilot was supposed to air tonight after "American Idol," which would have given it a huge boost. Instead, the pilot will air Friday. That's not altogether bad news for the show because women are the target of this series, and Friday nights are geared toward women.
The problem comes with the actual pilot. Not many women will want to come back after seeing it because the first 30 minutes are a complete and utter mess. Not only that, but the pilot is also pointless because by the second episode (at least the one sent to critics), everything's different. The main hook is there - Sarah (Posey), a successful children's book editor, can't have children, so she asks her estranged sister, Coco (Ambrose), to carry it for her - but most of the other details vanish.
For example, Sarah appears to work for a book company owned by a semi-grumpy woman with a cute granddaughter. In the second episode, she works for HarperCollins (which apparently bought or ate the lady and the kid). Also, in the pilot, Sarah lives in a cramped, homey place - left alone there by her boyfriend, who seems to have gone gay. In the second episode, she lives in a huge, hip loft and there's not much mention of a boyfriend. In the pilot, we meet Sarah's "no strings attached," "no talking about personal issues" man friend Marcus (Scott Cohen), who might be a lawyer. In the next episode, he'll be Sarah's "boyfriend" - and also her colleague at HarperCollins.
Yes, a lot changes from pilot to second episode (if Fox chooses to actually air that as the second episode or at all). But there are some positives, too: The second episode sent to critics is much better than the pilot, which upgrades the show from unwatchable to watchable, but not exactly interesting.
The problem, unfortunately, appears to be that Sherman-Palladino both wrote and directed the pilot. In it, she manages to make Posey chew more scenery and act more painfully daft than anyone could imagine, given Posey's many creative film triumphs. Where Sherman-Palladino directed Posey to be scatterbrained and flippantly witty, it just came off as ditzy. (In one scene, we're supposed to believe that not only has Sarah lost one of her high-heeled shoes and barely noticed but also that she was wearing them on the wrong feet most of the night. That's not charmingly eccentric, it's stupid.)
The Posey element is rectified, thankfully, in the second episode, where she's more likable, funnier, less scattered and better able to deliver the goods.
The presence of Ambrose as Coco is a welcome relief in the late minutes of the pilot, and she continues to be strong in the second episode. Unfortunately, that's not enough - mostly because the pilot does immeasurable damage to your willingness to return, and once you do, it's an entirely new series. And not one ready to earn your forgiveness. That's probably why Fox cut the episode order of "The Return of Jezebel James" from 13 to seven and moved it to Fridays.
It's tempting to think that if Fox had just redone the pilot, or killed it, the fixes we see in the second episode would make a better show. The tonal shift is remarkable, with Posey being funnier and more confident, Ambrose playing the little sister as a slacker counter to Posey's uptight, successful editor. That's the hook, is it not? Two very different sisters who have barely spoken through the years are brought together in this contrived birthing situation. Not wholly original, but Posey and Ambrose could nail the material if it were right.
But it's not, and "The Return of Jezebel James" (a reference to Coco's imaginary friend from childhood) never connects.
So what can we take away from this failure analysis? For starters, a series that seems funny as a script can go terribly sideways if the direction is bad and the star is asked to do something she's not fit for. Second, the responsibility of the network rests in fixing what it couldn't see on paper - but what it should have plainly seen in the pilot.
Fox's fixes unacceptable
An argument could be made that Fox did fix the show going forward, but its decision to air the original pilot despite its barely matching the next episode in look or tone is just not acceptable, even if you want to play the fiscal card. It looks as if "The Return of Jezebel James" was a casualty of the writers strike. Fox didn't want to pay to reshoot the pilot because it lost faith in the series' potential (which is also why it cut the episode order).
Since the network is going to win the season anyway, why not burn off the series as is? Who knows, maybe it'll work, right?
Well, now you know that it doesn't work. And why.
To watch clips of The Return of Jezebel James go to https://www.youtube.com/results?search_query=return+of+jezebel+james+tv+show
� Date: Thu June 12, 2008 � Filesize: 82.1kb � Dimensions: 450 x 350 �
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