Friday, March 14, 2008

TV premiering tonight: The Return of Jezebel James

I'm still making my way through Gilmore Girls, and although the point I'm at now (early in the fourth season) is not exactly the series' high point (it's pretty well degenerated into repeating itself and making the characters a bit cartoonish), I still have great admiration for creator Amy Sherman-Palladino's skill at writing dialogue and creating characters. So I want to give her the benefit of the doubt on this seriously questionable new show, which spotlights all of the worst qualities of her writing and almost none of the best. Part of the problem is the format: A half-hour laugh-tracked sitcom is not really the proper venue for ASP's jokes, which are wordy and come at a pace too rapid to allow for pauses to accommodate laughter. Sometimes the best thing about a joke on Gilmore Girls is that you won't even notice it until a minute or two later. The other big problem is the cast: Parker Posey and Lauren Ambrose as the main characters, a pair of estranged sisters, just can't pull off the mouthfuls of ASP dialogue like Lauren Graham and Alexis Bledel were able to. It ends up sounding like they're reciting speeches, and like they're out of breath at the end of every line.

Posey also gives a pretty terrible performance, especially considering what a good actress she is generally. But she makes book editor Sarah into a shrill, high-strung bitch who's completely unsympathetic by the time she gets around to asking her slacker sister to be a surrogate mother for her. Ambrose doesn't fare much better, but her character is more low-key and has fewer wordy speeches, so her deficiencies are less noticeable. The show is premised on the two sisters teaming up to have a baby, so it's a got a built-in limited shelf-life anyway. There are times when ASP's talents shine through, and I think maybe given time the characters could develop into interesting people. Despite my reservations, I'll probably watch all seven episodes that were produced before the strike, but I'd rather see ASP move on to something that better suits her strengths. Fox, Fridays, 8:30 p.m.; premieres tonight at 8 p.m.

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