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'Jezebel James': A Weak Sister

"The Return of Jezebel James," with Parker Posey, top, and Lauren Ambrose, shares a pedigree with "Gilmore Girls." (By Eric Liebowitz -- Fox)
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By Jennifer Frey
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, March 14, 2008

Indie queen Parker Posey is simply too much actress to be compacted into 22 minutes. Ditto the kind of rapid-fire dialogue that was a staple of Amy Sherman-Palladino's popular WB series, "Gilmore Girls."

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With "Gilmore Girls" -- which ended last season, much to the misery of die-hard Lorelai and Rory fans -- Sherman-Palladino did a drama-length show long on comedy. With her new offering, "The Return of Jezebel James," she does a comedy-length show that is painfully short on comedy.

Oh, there was so much hope riding on this new show -- hope that diminished the minute Fox decided to dump the show into the vast wasteland that is Friday nights. Studio execs obviously knew "Gilmore" junkies were not necessarily going to take to "Jezebel James." But what has gone wrong?

Given Sherman-Palladino's writing skills and the immense talents of Posey and Lauren Ambrose ("Six Feet Under"), "Jezebel" seemed to have a great shot at being the female buddy comedy that has yet to rise from the ashes of "Sex and the City." The premise, though, pretty much stinks.

Posey plays uptight children's-book editor Sarah (strong echoes of the role she played a decade ago in "You've Got Mail"), who is well into her 30s, coming off a nearly decade-long relationship, and infertile. Her approach to the concept of motherhood is so obtuse -- and none too funny. There's a moment when we catch her staring longingly at a co-worker's sweet granddaughter, but there's also that moment when she dismisses the concept of adoption because "I kinda freak out when strangers use my bathroom."

Enter Coco (Ambrose), Sarah's baby sister, who lives on friends' couches and inside Chinese takeout restaurants and generally looks as if she stole her entire slacker wardrobe from the "Six Feet Under" set. She doesn't appear to have a job, her boyfriend is the sort who gets his band's van impounded for unpaid parking tickets and she seems to eschew much in the arena of personal hygiene. But she's blood! Which means her uterus is just the incubator Sarah seeks.

For those wondering what on Earth the title means, it comes from a young adult book that Sarah commissioned; it's based on Coco's imaginary childhood friend, Jezebel James. Somehow, that gesture melts Coco's resolve -- that and perhaps the fact that Sarah lives in one of those impossibly fantastic New York apartments (on an editor's salary), which she justifies by stating that it's "Brooklyn, baby." (Anyone at Fox ever priced Park Slope lately?)

There is too little Ambrose/Posey interaction in the pilot, but in the second episode -- when Coco moves in and the two start haggling over the surrogacy contract -- Sherman-Palladino's knack for chick dialogue shows some of its old promise.

Alas, as "Notes From the Underbelly" has shown us, stories from the just-had-a-baby/about-to-have-a-baby dynamic are rarely as funny as "Sex and the City." Or even "Friends" (remember: Rachel essentially had to put baby Emma in the closet with her purse collection to keep that show going a few more seasons).

Question is: Will "Jezebel" last long enough for the little rugrat to get born?

The Return of Jezebel James (30 minutes) premieres tonight at 8 on Channel 5, with a second episode to follow at 8:30.

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