Monday, March 17, 2008

A Look At Some Current Sitcoms

I love Parker Posey. I think she's beautiful and tremendously talented. And I loved Gilmore Girls (for the first few seasons, anyway), which was created by Amy Sherman-Palladino.

So why is The Return of Jezebel James, the new show created by Sherman-Palladino and starring Posey, so overwhelmingly godawful?

Primarily it's Posey's fault. She's every bit as miscast spouting Sherman-Palladino's trademark rapid-fire, pop culture-packed, affected, earnestly-striving-for-wittiness banter as Lauren Graham was perfectly cast doing the same in Gilmore Girls. It takes a particular talent to sell that contrived dialogue (and don't get me wrong, when it's sold properly, as by Graham, it can be fantastic), and, while Posey is a woman of many talents, this is not one of them. She seems not to know how to act on television; she seems to have set her acting dials for "sitcommy," and she achieves it in the worst way possible.

Lauren Ambrose is a small spark of life here. Posey, and every other character, appear to be reading a wordy script as accurately as possible before all other considerations; Ambrose makes an effort to create a character and differentiate it from the others. (Seriously, they all sound alike; when an 11-year-old girl archly sneers of Posey's assistant, "That one's dying alone," any semblance of distinct characterization evaporates.)

The second episode was a slight improvement over the first for me, if only for the appearance of the wonderful Dianne Wiest as Posey and Ambrose's mother. She's won two Oscars for Woody Allen films; now this is a woman who knows how to read overly-witty, awkwardly-phrased dialogue. And Posey and Ambrose work better together now that they've overcome the hurdle of setting up the premise of the show. Although I disapprove of other changes from pilot to series: in the pilot, Posey lives in a house, while in the second episode, she's been switched to an apartment, for no reason other than, presumably, to give her weird neighbors with whom to interact awkwardly in the hallway. And the pilot's theme song was Fountains of Wayne's "Yolanda Hayes," while the second episode goes with some nondescript original noodling from Sherman-Palladino fave Grant Lee Phillips. Not a step up.

In other sitcommy news: How I Met Your Mother is back. And the nation rejoiced.

It's been way too long since we've been fortunate enough to enjoy the hilarity of Barney. Seeing him pick himself off the ground from underneath a pile of garbage at the end of the episode, brush himself off, and confidently assert, "I'm awesome" as he struts away... that was worth the wait alone. And I appreciated the forward momentum of the overall storyline of the series, namely: Ted has taken one step closer to meeting the titular mother. In fact, I wouldn't be surprised if the woman he accidentally, momentarily bumped into and dismissed in the night club turns out to be his future wife. Really, it almost seems too obvious. But if it is her: here is her website (which has not been updated since 2006). And here is a sexy picture of her:

How I Met Your Super Duper Smokin' Hot Mother

You saw it here first. You're welcome.

The Big Bang Theory also returned with a new episode tonight, and I continue to enjoy it on a strictly guilty pleasure level. But I also caught a new episode of The New Adventures of Old Christine tonight, and I was surprised to find how unabashedly enthusiastic I was about it. Julia Louis-Dreyfus, as I believe I've said before, and will probably say again, is one of those women who gets more attractive with age. And I like her as an actress more as she ages as well; I find her much more appealing here than I ever did on Seinfeld (and I certainly never disliked her on Seinfeld).

The whole cast is fun to watch. Wanda Sykes has never been better or nearly as relaxed and natural in an acting role (though she's been better as a stand-up). Clark Gregg, as Christine's ex, is an always entertaining foil. Hamish Linklater has an amusingly low-key charm as Christine's stoner-looking brother (who insists he's not a stoner). And Dave Foley, reprising his guest role tonight as a hapless would-be suitor of Christine, was hilarious as always. And I appreciated the level of edginess the writers were able to inject into this CBS sitcom; the entire episode revolved around Christine's efforts to score some weed, and featured such lines as the following, spoken dismissively by Christine while she's stealing from the lost and found box at her gym: "This is like Christmas, without all the giving and the Jesus." I'm not saying it's comedy gold, and I'm not saying it's the return of Lenny Bruce. But it's a refreshingly sharp jab from a laugh-tracked sitcom on the Old People's Network.

Also: Happy St. Patrick's Day! As always, remember: an Irishman is never drunk so long as he can hold onto a single blade of grass, and not fall off the face of the Earth. As I have proven again and again. Slainte!

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