Finally, the wait is over – there’s a new half-decent scripted program on TV. It’s just too bad the acting is terrible.

Phillip Kurdunowicz
“I apologize for not feeding your cats, but I was late for my “Ring 3″ audition.” (Courtesy of FOX)

Parker Posey (“Superman Returns”) plays Sarah Tompkins, a New Yorker and children’s book editor in Fox’s new comedy, “The Return of Jezebel James.” After discovering she has Asherman Syndrome and can’t conceive a child, Tompkins, a consummate professional, is determined to have a baby somehow. So she contacts her estranged sister, Coco (Lauren Ambrose, “Six Feet Under”), to carry her child. Problem solved. The catch: though they’re related, these sisters are polar opposites. While Sarah is neurotic and successful, Coco is a free spirit who’s broke.

The main flaw of the show is the acting, particularly Posey’s. Her style is a combination of weird, strained facial expressions and rapid line deliverance (that seems to be the signature of all the actors). This only intensifies as the episode goes on, and what starts out as quirky soon becomes irritating and ends up so bad it seems intentional. Combine Posey’s acting with her character’s over-the-top sunny disposition, and her scenes get old pretty fast.

The other actors don’t have Posey’s strange character issues, but they all overact at times. When giving blood, Ambrose doesn’t give a very realistic or convincing performance despite her long résumé. But as soon as Posey is onscreen, the only noticeable thing is her domineering personality, which waffles between amusing and irritating.

The poor acting is a shame, because many of the show’s jokes are surprisingly funny. Any preconceived notions that “Jezebel” as just another mindless addition to the Fox line-up are thrown away by the clever, quick repartee. But even though the dialogue is typically at least a little charming, it’s almost always about the characters’ own interests. Arguments pop up because each character wants things done their way, and while there have been successful shows about selfish people, it seems like not having a single selfless character is a mistake.

There are too many television shows centering on New York City women to count (“Cashmere Mafia,” “Lipstick Jungle,” “The Real Housewives of New York City”), but “Jezebel” could be the best replacement for “Sex and the City” so far. It doesn’t try to be a carbon copy of the popular HBO show, but it makes the concept of successful urban women its own. Most importantly, unlike “Cashmere Mafia” and “Lipstick Jungle,” “Jezebel” is funny.

But the producers don’t seem to think the audience can figure out that the show is funny on their own. The show’s laugh track hearkens back to “Leave It To Beaver,” and not in a good way. Often, it mirrors the jokes, but sometimes it’s overdone, giving smaller jokes a response they don’t deserve. If the show was filmed in front of a live studio audience, it would be less contrived and the humor more appreciated.

Regardless of the less-than-satisfying acting, “The Return of Jezebel James” is a light-hearted comedy with good chemistry and dialogue and a welcome change from the slew of crappy reality TV.

2-1/2 Stars

The Return of Jezebel James

Fridays at 8 p.m.


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