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Welcome once again to our annual "first look" at the broadcast networks' offerings for the 2007-2008 season. Each day we'll walk you through one of the new series set to premiere this season and go over our initial impressions after viewing the pilot. While it's still a little early for full reviews (some recasting and reshooting will be done on a good chunk of them), we still want to give you a heads up on what you should - and shouldn't - keep on your radar in the coming months.
And as an added bonus this year, each day we'll also take a look at one of the pilots that didn't make the cut. So enough of our rambling, on with the show!
THE RETURN OF JEZEBEL JAMES (FOX)
(Wednesdays at 8:30/7:30c this January)
The network's description: "Can two estranged sisters, polar opposites, live together when one agrees to carry the other's baby? SARAH THOMKINS (Parker Posey, "For Your Consideration," "Best in Show") is a bright, optimistic, determined woman who seems to have it all a great job as a children's book editor, an eager-to-please assistant, BUDDY (Michael Arden), who helps keep her life together, and a no-strings-attached personal relationship with successful businessman MARCUS SONTI (Scott Cohen, "Kissing Jessica Stein"). Nevertheless, as her father, RONALD (Ron McLarty, "Law & Order"), is constantly pointing out, something is missing from Sarah's life. Her hard work may garner accolades, but when she goes home at night, she is very much alone. All too aware that she isn't getting any younger, Sarah decides to have a baby on her own and gets the shock of her life when the doctor tells her she can't get pregnant. Having no concept of the term "can't," Sarah wills herself to execute a plan. With nowhere else to turn, Sarah sets up a meeting with her quirky younger sister, COCO (Lauren Ambrose, "Six Feet Under"), and proposes a plan for Coco to carry her baby. They haven't seen each other in a while, and Coco refuses to go along with such a huge favor. But something happens when Sarah mentions that she's turned Coco's imaginary childhood friend, Jezebel James, into a children's book. Even though she doesn't say so out loud, Coco is clearly touched, and, realizing that her current living situation sharing a couch with her friend's sick dog isn't working out, Coco decides that this just might be worth a try."
What did they leave out: Fellow "Gilmore Girls" alum Rose Abdoo (Gypsy) also makes a cameo.
The plot in a nutshell: It wasn't until recently that Sarah Thomkins (a surprisingly broad Parker Posey) realized she wanted kids. After all she has the perfect job as a children's book editor for HarperCollins, a dutiful assistant named Buddy (Michael Arden) and the perfect no strings relationship with her handsome beau Marcus (Scott Cohen). But whether it be coming home to an empty house for the umpteenth time or her dad's (Ron McLarty) constant nagging or the adorableness her co-worker's (Dana Ivey) granddaughter (Savannah Stehlin), the pangs are definitely there. And so Sarah looks into having a child by herself, only to be confronted with the news that she has Asherman's Syndrome and can't have children on her own. Her only options then are to adopt ("I get freaked out when strangers use my bathroom," she notes) or find a surrogate. The latter then requires her to get in touch with her estranged bohemian sister Coco (Lauren Ambrose). They agree to meet at a dingy diner (complete with Luke Danes-esque proprietor) where lots of old wounds are opened, but not so much that the news of her sister's predicament - as well as the revelation Sarah turned Coco's childhood imaginary friend into a Pippi Longstocking-esque book series - doesn't touch Coco. In the end, Coco agrees to carry Sarah's baby and move in to her posh apartment for the duration of the pregnancy.
What works: Amy Sherman-Palladino's signatures touches - from lengthy discussions about everyday minutiae (where one should store their Kleenex boxes, what's an acceptable amount of pizza grease, etc.) to its frazzled, exasperated lead - are all over this one so "Gilmore Girls" fans will undoubtedly be pleased. Beyond that, I think they'll be stunned to find...
What doesn't: ...how unfunny and creaky the show is by comparison. The chief offender surprisingly is Posey who literally redefines the word "broad" in her performance. A scene in which she breaks down in front of Marcus after learning she can't have kids is a virtual case study on why people dislike sitcoms, whether it be its "please make it stop" laugh track or Posey's borderline caricature performance. Don't get me wrong, I love the Posey. She's in one of my favorite movies of all time. But she's either woefully miscast here or trying too hard to be funny. Not helping matters is that the show's multi-camera format doesn't seem suited for the script as it at best adds an unnecessary theatricality to the proceedings and at worst undercuts every joke with its ever-present laugh track. Multi-camera is definitely suited for a specific voice and this isn't it. That being said, because it is Amy Sherman-Palladino there's potential around every corner - from an amusing bit in which a wise-beyond-his-years neighborhood kid (Dylan Blue) peppers Sarah with inappropriate questions to a neat reveal that a smitten Buddy hopes Coco has his children too. All in all however those are just calm moments in a surprisingly rocky show.
The bottom line: Posey's performance and Sherman-Palladino's script don't seem to be suited for the sitcom format.