The second season of Tracey Ullman's State of the Union debuts tonight on Showtime. New to her arsenal: Former First Lady Laura Bush, and fashion icon Donna Karan. It's more one-woman show performance art than straight-up sitcom, so you may find yourself impressed without laughing out loud. Would you like to see what Ullman has learned in the break since the first season? We can make that happen, right here in the following box (unless the box doesn't work, in which case, blame Showtime for telling me it would):
Showtime announced it's renewing Tracey Ullman's State of the Union for a seven-episode second season, due to hit our TV screens in 2009. When Ullman returns, she'll be joined by another British TV comedy, The Marc Wootton Project.
Marc Wootton also has made a name for himself on the other side of the pond for his character-based comedy that he often performs on unsuspecting audiences, most notably so far for the "psychic" he portrays BBC's High Spirits with Shirley Ghostman. Showtime is giving Wootten six episodes to develop whatever he wants, as the network hopes he becomes the next Sacha Baron Cohen. (official Showtime press release)
The first of five episodes of Tracey Ullman's new Showtime series, Tracey Ullman's State of the Union, debuted last night. It's her third go on TV with her multi-character comedy sketches, following previous Emmy-winning runs on FOX in the late 1980s and HBO in the late 1990s. Once again, she's got a lot of voices in her head just waiting to come out, and thanks to hair and makeup, she melds into many varied roles here, too.
This time, the show's structure, a narrated mocumentary that follows a day in the life of America and Americans, hops and leaps from one scene to the next -- in the debut episode alone, Ullman introduces 16 different characters in 24 minutes (39 characters overall this season). Some are real people (Laurie David, Arianna Huffington, Nancy Pelosi, Tony Sirico, Rita Cosby, David Beckham, Campbell Brown and Dina Lohan) while others are imagined impressions on everyday and not-so-everyday folk to comment upon the issues of the day. Here's a clip of Ullman as Huffington:
The debut kicks off with a Bangladeshi woman who has to work three jobs, and returns to her at episode's end, with narrator Peter Strauss intoning, "There are approximately 12 million undocumented workers ni the United States. Nine hundred joined us within the last 24 hours. Good night, America." Other voiceovers aren't quite so serious. Nor are all of Ullman's characters. There's Padma Perkesh, the pharmacist in Oak Ridge, Tenn., who doles out prescriptions in song-and-dance that looks and sounds like Bollywood meets Oompa Loompa. Gretchen Pincus is a serial death-row wife-turned-author out to make a buck off her convicted companions. Sally Knox appears in four of the episodes as an investment banker involved in an affair with her boss (played by Scott Bakula). Chanel Monticello is a sassy black TSA worker. And Linda Alvarez is a self-involved morning TV anchor from Buffalo.
A recurring feature mocks celebrities and movie press junkets. Ullman plays Tony "Paulie Walnuts" Sirico in the debut trying to stretch as an actor in "I'm With This Inuit." Future pairings likewise have Renee Zellweger in "Home Frontal Lobe" ("Oh, doctor, anything but my right frontal lobe! How bad is this squint gonna be?"), Dame Judi Dench playing an Alzheimer's victim in a Martin Scorcese film, "Who The F*ck Was I?", a belching Cameron Diaz in "That Terrible Time of the Month" and Helen Mirren stars in "Fish Out Those Old Teats."
Ullman gets repeated laughs and digs out of Dina Lohan, Arianna Huffington and Linda Alvarez. Highlights in the second episode include that Zellweger bit and a look at an Army solider and mother who takes a film crew with her to visit her son while on a very limited leave from Iraq.
Not everything works. Perhaps that's OK when some scenes barely last a minute. But I also felt that at times, Ullman is approaching the work more as an actress and a performance artist than as a comedian. Translation: Few big laughs. Even watching the first two episodes with my parents, who were fans of Ullman's previous TV offerings, elicited only a few audible laughs. They still like her, calling her unique and talented. But funny? Then I saw this TV Guide interview with Ullman, and I began to understand it better.
TVGuide.com: Who are your greatest influences?
Ullman: Peter Sellers. I'm not a stand-up comedian — I don't tell jokes. But I really like incredible character actors like Sellers, who would just get into characters and see the endearing, sad side of people. He wasn't just trying to do funny, on-the-surface impersonations, but also to get into a character. I also used to watch The Carol Burnett Show, and she's an extraordinary actress. She was always real. Even though that show is wacky and zany, she is just so true. People who can really become someone else I find very exciting.
After the jump, another video from the program, plus a full list of all the characters Tracey Ullman takes on, so to speak, in Tracey Ullman's State of the Union.
Did you know that in some parts of this country, people will not report to work on Monday so they can reportedly celebrate presidents? No, really? There's a new Macy's TV ad and everything. That's not all, though. Tracey Ullman wants to wish us Americans a happy "holiday," too. Oh, and remind us that her new Showtime satire, Tracey Ullman's State of the Union, will debut March 30. More to say about Ullman in the weeks to come. For now, enjoy this video and your President's Day Weekend!
I don't mean to be a stickler here, but this wire story from over the weekend gets Tracey Ullman's name wrong, and secondly, doesn't tell me how her new Showtime sketch comedy show will get written without breaking the WGA strike. Does someone know the answer to this?
UPDATED and CORRECTED! Thanks, readers. As I suspected but didn't see referenced earlier, Ullman's show already written pre-strike. No worries.