Quick Hit: ‘Tracey Ullman’s Show’ Amuses

HBO’s Tracey Ullman’s Show offers another strong platform for Ullman’s incredible talents

Tracey Ullman’s Show provides further evidence that Tracey Ullman is an international treasure. More than just an impressionist, Ullman often creates odd and ultimately sympathetic portraits of her characters. This new series, airing on HBO after premiering earlier on the BBC, follows the same formula as her previous efforts. It affords Ullman the opportunity to continue to mass produce endearing portraits of female (and sometimes male) oddities. Based on the pilot, the show falls into the mostly amusing category if not outright hilarious. I’m fine with that, honestly, as it is always a pleasure to welcome Tracey Ullman onto network television.

The Tracey Ullman’s Show strongest sections offer her take on famous personalities. Nothing in the episode compares to the brilliance of her dead-on Dame Judi Dench characterization, although her Angela Merkel comes very close. Both portraits illustrate these powerful women in everyday circumstances and playfully poke fun at their inherent quirks. This show and Ullman’s talents remain more than just impressions – they’re real characters. No one does this quite as well as Tracey Ullman.

The rest of the episode features newly created characters. While there’s nothing particularly wrong with them, they’re not nearly as exciting as her take on famous persons. The pilot spends a lot of time with Karen who returns to the UK after a 28-year prison sentence in Thailand for being a drug mule. I didn’t find Karen particularly funny as this character squarely fits into the extreme pathos category. The episode closes with a well intended but awfully dry tap dance number in a shuttered library.

Twenty years ago, Tracey Ullman’s Show would garner its star another Emmy nomination if not a win. However, it remains to be seen how much of an impact this series would make given the altered TV landscape. Still, you could do a lot worse than spend a half-hour with Tracey Ullman’s genius comic talents.

Tracey Ullman’s Show premieres tonight at 11pm ET on HBO.

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