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.