The fact that a sitcom starring Parker Posey and Lauren Ambrose could get canceled is telling of just how askew the year 2008 was. The Return of Jezebel James, created by Amy Sherman-Palladino on the heels of her masterpiece, Gilmore Girls, which ended in 2007, is one of TV’s true forgotten gems.
Centered around the busy lifestyle of children’s book editor Sarah Thomkins (Posey), The Return of Jezebel James is a comment on the value of family, no matter how disparate you are from them. Similar to Gilmore Girls in terms of highlighting a strong, playful female dynamic, the show finds two sisters reuniting after years of being largely estranged. Sarah’s sister, Coco (Ambrose), re-enters her life when Sarah finds out she’s incapable of having a child. Knowing that, as a mid-30 year old, her clock is ticking faster than the speed of a swimming sperm, she calls upon Coco to ask if she’ll act as a surrogate for her baby.
Coco, who is more jaded and misanthropic (in spite of not working in the publishing world in New York City), is initially hesitant to perform such a “weighty” favor, but can’t help giving in when emotions and sentimentality get the best of her. To clinch her decision, Coco is moved to learn that Sarah created a children’s book series based on Coco’s imaginary friend as a kid, Jezebel James.
With Coco consenting to move in with Sarah, the sitcom-y elements of the show come into play. Generally critiqued for being an awkward plot for a sitcom and Sherman-Palladino’s signature writing style being too verbose for a traditional comedy, The Return of Jezebel James had quite a bit working against it. A number of other factors conspired to tackle the show off the airwaves, including the Writer’s Guild strike that also made 2008 an incredibly apocalyptic year. Serving as a mid-season replacement on Fox, it also had a lot to contend with in terms of time slot and promotion.
Ultimately, the show only aired for three episodes, with four episodes that never saw the light of day until being released separately after the show was canceled. Perhaps given an emotional blow after the failure of the series, Sherman-Palladino didn’t have another one of her projects on the air until 2012, ABC Family’s Bunheads, which was also canceled. What does this say about Sherman-Palladino’s work? Simply that people either 1) Don’t understand it or 2) Can’t seem to process anything from her as ever being able to surpass Gilmore Girls. Either way, it’s unfortunate to see her writing efforts beyond the world of Lorelai and Rory go unnoticed and under appreciated.