Sunday, March 30, 2008 Review!

Tracey takes on the USA
Instead of watching a human being imitate an inanimate object, why not tune in for Sunday night's premiere of "Tracey Ullman's State of the Union" (10 p.m. on Showtime), in which the always-brilliant Ullman imitates some seriously foolish human beings, from demi-celebrities like Larry David's ex-wife Laurie David and anchorwoman Linda Alvarez to invented personalities like airport security worker Chanel Monticello or a Bollywood-style singing pharmacist. Ullman has a sharp eye for the precise ways in which Americans are ludicrous and laughable and deliciously self-satisfied, and she knows just how to demonstrate our vanity to us, whether she embodies Laurie David bragging about her friend's minivan that runs on "cadavers and goat shit" or an African celebrity who adopts an American boy to save him from "dying of stupidity."

Ullman is obviously great at impressions, but it's the sharpness of the writing that sets this show apart from other sketch comedies. Ullman tosses off so many excellent one-liners along the way, it's hard to keep track of them all. Before her broadcast, anchorwoman Alvarez reads over the news that "In South Africa, Angelina Jolie was beaten by an angry mob of her own children." In another episode, Alvarez cheerfully tells the camera, "Coming up after the break, five things in your refrigerator that can kill you!"

And then there's the voice-over that begins, "At the Hamptons Film Festival, where the film industry goes to get away from itself, actress Renée Zellweger is talking about her new movie..."

Of course, not every character Tracey Ullman takes on is pure genius, and not every joke she writes will have you rolling on the floor. Some of her jokes and characters range from silly (a farting yoga instructor?) to just plain odd (Irma Billings, the low-key Christian Midwesterner, spouts clichés but does little else).

That said, who else but Ullman would dare to imitate Arianna Huffington in her home gym, working out in the most awkward position imaginable while she furiously types a post on her blog? Later, we see Arianna in bed, cuddling with her laptop as she falls asleep. While you might think someone as obscure as Huffington would be an odd choice for a comedian to skewer, there's something so deliriously American about Huffington's tireless ambition, which is right in step with her tireless appearances, her tireless blogging, her tireless workouts...

What I mean to say is that Tracey Ullman sees right through us -- all of us, from mega-celebrities to complete nobodies. Now let's all say a quick prayer that we never end up in one of her sketches.

Saturday, March 29, 2008

Review: 'Tracey Ullman's State of the Union'

Monsters & Critics

By April MacIntyre Mar 29, 2008, 18:52 GMT

Tracey Ullman's new series on Showtime is a stage for what the new U.S. citizen does best: Lampoon and satirize the bloated egos of the percolating celebrity and “persons of interest” world.

She sticks it to them in the funniest way.

"Tracey Ullman's State of the Union," debuts Sunday on Showtime, a show that skewers ordinary everyday people to the likes of Arianna Huffington, Tony Sirico (as Sopranos’ Paulie) Laurie David, Renee Zellweger and even David Beckham.

Even local LA news anchor Linda Alvarez gets a poke for her famous Castilian “Ahhhbarresss” name boomerang she wings at us nightly.

Some of the more amusing everyday types included an Indian pharmacist in the middle of Tennessee who busts out a vivid Bollywood number for any customer needing possible side-effect clarifications.

Another fine moment was TSA screener “Chanel”, who on the sly passes people though the baggage x-ray machine and diagnoses potential medical problems, helping the uninsured out.

"State of the Union" is not a variety show like her last effort. The series is one blended timelined narration of daily regional doings in the US of A. At times her show seemed adrift in its own cuteness.

The best moments work when she isn’t being too heavy handed with the social messages and lets loose on her perfectly spoofed segments of the rich and famous who blog, raise famous starlets or act. Her best moments came as Arianna, Dina and Laurie.

Ullman is the closest thing this generation has to the great television goddess, Carol Burnett. Tracey’s show had funny, enjoyable moments but I feel her best work is still to come for the faithful who adore her comedic sensibilities and elastic talent to absorb personas.

Not for children, language.

Grade B

The Rave Reviews Keep Pouring In!
Tracey Ullman's Back, As A Hilarious Cast Of Thousands


Courant TV Critic

March 30, 2008
Click here to find out more!

Tracey Ullman gets credit for putting her comedy mark on Sunday nights, if only because her old Fox variety show helped introduce " The Simpsons," still going strong in its 19th season.

But her profile rises even more with her marvelously realized new show. "Tracey Ullman's State of the Union," a series of only five episodes that starts tonight on Showtime, celebrates her skills as master impressionist and her recently acquired U.S. citizenship.

The British comedian has lived in the States for 25 years, so she has a lot to draw on for this deftly constructed series. Each episode is set up as a "day in the life" documentary of the nation and its myriad of personalities — domestic workers, celebrities, yoga teachers, security guards, housewives, the homeless, nuns, soldiers, pundits — all of them vaguely looking like Ullman.

Like Catherine Tate, her prevailing British counterpart, Ullman's oft-recurring portrayals are based more on wry observation and jolts of comedy than heavy makeup. But she's able to do some fearless things, including portraying an array of men, ranging from a hilariously dotty and over-the-hill Andy Rooney ("60 Minutes"); to "Sopranos" actor Tony Sirico (Paulie Walnuts), who extends his career playing an Inuit with an Italian accent; to a pesky, spiky-haired David Beckham identified as "husband of Posh Spice and perpetually injured soccer star."

She has plenty of celebrities to portray, continually appearing as a variety of actresses doing interviews in increasingly far-flung film festivals (from Sundance to Butte). Among them are a flashing Helen Mirren, a giggly Cameron Diaz, a perpetually squinting Renée Zellweger, and Judi Dench playing in a Martin Scorsese movie on Alzheimer's with a vulgar title.

Some of the funniest recurring characters, though, are people who are just barely celebrities — who are hilarious even if you don't know them. One is Arianna Huffington, who sleeps with her laptop and has a dramatic Eva Gabor accent and penchant for using "blog" in every part of her speech.

Another is Laurie David, the environmentalist and estranged wife of Larry David ("Curb Your Enthusiam"). Laurie is only seen flying around in her private jet, often cussing out those below her.

You may not remember Fox News correspondent Rita Crosby and her odd hoarse voice, but it will all come back to you in Ullman's cutting portrayals of her, doing anything for the big story.

Ullman's most devastating portrayal, though, may be of Dina Lohan, who ignores the various overdoses of her daughter Lindsay to chat with the girls in a hip nightclub's "holding pen for moms awaiting their out-of-control starlet daughters."

Some of her characters are good for only their brief appearances on the show, such as "the biggest movie star from Malawi," who turns the tables on Angelina Jolie and her ilk by coming to the Appalachians and adopting a poor American child. Or the 70-year-old from Mississippi who decides to get pregnant but falls asleep during her ultrasound and, later, between contractions. Or the spunky mainstay from a regional production of "Chicago" returning after a double-hip replacement (but not quite making it back on the stage).

It may take "Saturday Night Live" a season to put out this many funny characters and celebrity portrayals. But the glossy "State of the Union," narrated by Peter Strauss, churns out a dozen or more in each week's half-hour.

It may take a while to construct something this dense, though. Ullman chose to lampoon newswoman Campbell Brown for fear-mongering reports, but depicts her as still working for NBC, which she left last June. A better anchor, though, is Ullman's recurring Linda Alvarez, morning anchor for WBFW in Buffalo.

Some of Ullman's characters are just sight gags, such as tangled-up yoga instructor Chandra Perkette, whose toes wiggle around her ears. But others portend full-fledged portrayals, such as Padma Perkish, a pharmacist of Indian descent who flies into Bollywood-style diagnoses.

Ullman does all this virtually single-handedly. Unlike the old "The Tracey Ullman Show" on Fox, whose supporting cast generally went on to become voices for "The Simpsons," the new show has Ullman in just about every role, with the exception of Scott Bakula, who plays opposite her as a philandering hedge-fund chief.

Occupying a comedic center ground between the straight skits of the old Fox show and the more involved scenarios from her HBO series "Tracey Takes On...," the fast-moving "State of the Union" will also be fast leaving. Its five episodes wrap up by the end of April — just as you're falling in love with it.

TRACEY ULLMAN'S STATE OF THE UNION starts tonight at 10 on Showtime.

Reviews: Ullman’s impersonations are best of British imports

Ullman’s impersonations are best of British imports
By Dale McGarrigle
Saturday, March 29, 2008 - Bangor Daily News

One of Britain’s sharpest exports returns this Sunday in the form of Tracey Ullman.

Now a naturalized U.S. citizen, multiple Emmy winner Ullman celebrates the many quirks of this country in her new Showtime limited series "Tracey Ullman’s State of the Union," debuting at 10 p.m. Sunday.

Her sketch comedy smorgasbord features her dead-on impersonations, ranging from celebrity mom Dina Lohan to political pundit Arianna Huffington to soccer superstar David Beckham to actors Renee Zellweger, Tony Sirico, Judi Dench and Helen Mirren.

Then there are her own creations: airport security agent Chanel Monticello, Jamaican caregiver Marion Churchill, WNBA coach Sandra Stevens, prescription drug-smuggling retiree Doris Basham, Andy Rooney’s less-known brother Ronnie and pharmacist Padma Perkesh, whose gives her clients information in the form of a Bollywood musical.

Ullman tackles societal ills through satire, whether they be a crumbling health-care system, illegal immigration or environmental destruction. When she appears as Malawi’s most famous film actress, who is adopting a young boy from Appalachia (whether he’s interested or not), she makes a wicked point about well-meant cultural imperialism.

With only five episodes planned in this series, Ullman fans needed to hop aboard early. They’ll definitely enjoy this cross-country ride.
Share: "State of the Union" Review

Jonathan Storm: Tracey Ullman takes her licks at the U.S.

By Jonathan Storm
Inquirer Television Critic

Dark hilarity outweighs the down times, as Tracey Ullman returns to TV tomorrow at 10 p.m. on Showtime with some of the best social and political TV satire this side of The Simpsons.

That show got its start in 1987, you probably don't recall, with teeny cartoons shuffled into the mix, designed to diversify the laughs in The Tracey Ullman Show, one of the initial successes of the fledgling Fox network.

Ullman is still energetic and rubber-faced 20 years on, settling in the skin of more than 30 characters in Tracey Ullman's State of the Union, a short-run (five-episode) series that skewers celebrities and ideologues while shining a light on some peculiar American behaviors and governmental failings.

You'll recognize Andy Rooney, Tony Sirico (The Sopranos' Paulie Walnuts), and soccer god David Beckham. Ullman rarely drags in drag.

But she's also ruthless with a panoply of females, including Lindsay Lohan's mom, rich liberals Arianna Huffington and Laurie David (comedian Larry's eco-obsessed ex-wife), Nancy Pelosi, several TV news gals, and, by reflection, Angelina Jolie.

"I am the biggest star in Malawi," one of Ullman's characters, decked out in full African regalia, declares. She has come to some poverty-stricken corner of unenlightened America to adopt a cute little boy and take him home.

"Maybe, just maybe, my fame will prevent him from dying from stupidity," she declares with self-important Jolie-esque ethnocentrism.

Borat came from Great Britain, via a fictionalized Kazakhstan, to make fun of dumb average Americans (mostly Southerners) while the upscale movie audience guffawed.

Britisher Ullman became a naturalized U.S. citizen last year, and her game's on a higher plane.

"Tip O'Neill never had to do this," mutters her House Speaker Pelosi, as she gets just enough Botox to smooth skin but not freeze her expression. "I want to be able to look surprised and compassionate when the gay marriage bill doesn't pass again."

Ullman's satire is at its best when she inhabits the little people. Airline screener Chanel Monticello runs people through her X-ray machine before the airport opens, checking for tumors and the like. "This is my way of helping the uninsured," she explains, jabbing U.S. efforts at airline security and health care in one stroke.

The episodes, each supposedly one day in the life of America, should leave viewers squirming, not just with laughter at the failings they portray, but with anticipation that Ullman and Showtime will hurry up and make some more.

RADAR: Tracy Ullman's State Of The Union

When Barack Obama famously said in his address at the 2004 Democratic National Convention that there isn't a liberal America and a conservative America, that there is only the United States of America, he found an unlikely compatriot in English-born Tracy Ullman. In turn, the comedienne has now handily skewered and satirized without prejudice all sides of this great nation in her new Showtime series, Tracy Ullman's State of the Union. Each 25-minute episode plays as a documentary of a day in the life of Americans ordinary and famous, in states red and blue. "50 states, 51 capital cities, home to over 300 million Americans," a TV narrator booms over an opening montage that sweeps across the country. "Land of the free and home of the brave, let's visit its people for a day."

And then we're dumped out on the street with a freshly post-op hospital patient left to take out her own stitches—just like in Barack's America!

The people visited include Andy Rooney, a woman hanging her laundry in Nebraska, David Beckham, a woman prone to marrying men on death row, a Jamaican caregiver to elderly, and Helen Mirren—all played with expected deftness by Ullman. Even if you're not an Ullman fan—and she tends to be one of those performers people are strongly for or against—the show's sharp, timely satire of America makes it worth watching.

Ullman doesn't simply stick to comfortable targets and mock the media and our celebrity obsessions, she also hilariously critiques the health-care crisis, the treatment of the elderly, and a soldier called back to Iraq after being home for just a few hours. Should a young mother getting sent back to war before her son's soccer game is over get you down, the show quickly cuts to something lighter—say, skewering Laurie David hypocritically flying in private jet en route to her green compound. With slick, TV-doc-style editing, skillful (and probably thrifty for Showtime) use of stock footage, and ADD-sensitive sketches, Ullman is able to get dark or harsh without seeming cruel or callous.

Some characters are more successful than others, though they all grow pretty lovable by the end. Still, Ullman's David Beckham needs Posh screaming at him from offscreen to be funny, and some sketches, like Dina Lohan in a celeb mom VIP area at a nightclub, have moments more obvious than obviously funny. But her impression of "wealthy political pundit" Arianna Huffington is fairly amazing, as is a black airport security officer named Chanel Monticello who uses her X-ray machine to help diagnose the uninsured. Sure, a television show with a sketch about Christopher Hitchens molesting Huffington's Hispanic maid isn't for everyone, but it's certainly for us.

By Hailey Eber 03/28/08 3:20 PM

Friday, March 28, 2008

TV Junkie: Weekend Edition - Showtime Now Owns Sundays

TV Junkie: Weekend Edition - Showtime Now Owns Sundays

In short: tonight brings us the conclusion of HBO's In Treatment, tomorrow Torchwood on the BBCA at 9pm provides us an opportunity to geek out, and on Sunday a lot of newly patriotic folks await part 4 of John Adams on HBO at 9pm.

The big story this weekend is Showtime's Sunday lineup. Season 2 of The Tudors starts up and while it might not lure away John Adams fans immediately, it should be noted that John Adams will be over with in a couple more weeks and with how these premium channels repeatedly broadcast their content it should be easy for viewers to catch up. No doubt that The Tudors will also pick up viewers by fans of the recent theatrical release, The Other Boleyn Girl, but hopefully everyone recognizes the historical liberties taken by the producers of these entertainments. I'll be damned if Jonathan Rhys Meyers isn't the most ripped and waxed Henry the VIII ever portrayed on TV, film, or in heavy oil paints - and lo and behold he gets a hand job from Anne Boleyn. Still, the accuracy of the period design and costumes is compelling but since it was mostly shot on indoor sets or in gardens, this series feels a lot more constrained and artificial compared to HBO's best effort at historical drama, Rome.

Following The Tudors at 10:00pm is the premiere of Tracey Ullman's State of the Union. A friend of mine once said, "If you don't think Tracey Ullman is brilliant, you can go fuck yourself" and I'm inclined to adopt that attitude. Ullman is a shapeshifter "taking on" the whole US of A in her new series, and no one is safe. By the first episode, she establishes a stable of characters including a realistic midwestern suburban homemaker and a (black) urban homecare provider as well as an outrageous Bollywood pharmacist and a furloughed Army Mom who only has enough time home from Iraq to take orange wedges to her daughter's soccer game before heading back to the military transport plane.

There is a definite assessment of the state of America in this series by Ullman. Even though she brings humor to each of her vignettes, in almost all of them there's an understanding established that the way things are going is kind of fucked up - whether it's a bus full of senior citizens coming back from a drug run to Canada getting raided, or Ullman's parody of drunken rabid MILF Dina Lohan (Linday's mother), there's enough reality to give one pause. Interestingly, other than a Nancy Grace-like investigative reporter, Ullman avoids any overt exploitation of right wing demagogues, at least, in the 1/2 dozen or so episodes that I saw. The left, however, is skewered in every episode with her portrayals, all hilarious, of Nancy Pelosi, Laurie David, and Queen Bee of the blogosphere, Ariana Huffington, who is either doing pilates or blogging herself to sleep, always alone, signing off with "Blogs & Kisses".

These two shows represent a huge investment on the part of Showtime and to think that they are not attempting to take Sunday night away from HBO is naive. While both of these shows are very well done, Tracey Ullman's State of the Union is the true groundbreaker and will be the TV Junkie Pick O' the Weekend for at least the next two months.

Interview With TV Guide

Tracey Ullman Examines the State of the Union

English native Tracey Ullman has a unique perspective on the United States — actually, she has dozens. In her zany sketch-comedy series, Tracey Ullman's State of the Union (Fridays at 10 pm/ET, Showtime), the multitalented mimic will each week deliver a series of rapid-fire vignettes that capture a day in the life of America. We caught up with her for some insight into the method behind her madness. You sing, dance, act…. Is there anything you can't do?
Tracey Ullman: I can't draw. Stick people come out! [Laughs] But, in general, I don't like to be pigeonholed. I'm lucky — I get to have a chance at anything. I'm a happy schizophrenic! Explain the concept of State of the Union.
Ullman: We spend a day in America — from dawn to dusk— dropping in on as many people as possible for no more than 90 seconds. I try to do a whole range of characters with the people. I want to do things very quickly and focus in on a thought or a joke very quickly, as opposed to setting it up with tons of other shots. How did you develop your gift for mimicry?
Ullman: I've done it since I was a child. Some children play piano or are good at soccer, but I could just imitate everybody in my class and everybody in my family. They'd put me up on the windowsill in my living room and make me do a show. Do you have a favorite character from the series?
Ullman: I like being Gretchen, the woman whose husband is on death row. Her little top with the chain-link strap just kills me. And I love being famous people. It felt daring and naughty to be real people like Arianna [Huffington], Laurie David and Rita Cosby. Have you ever impersonated anyone to their face?
Ullman: It's awful when people make you do it. They never get it. Whenever I meet Arianna, I do her, and she looks at me with such puzzlement. I say, "You sound like Eva Gabor in Green Acres." People don't hear themselves that way. What is your impression of Americans?
Ullman: It's hilarious. They're so excessive and there are so many extremes in this country because it's so vast. There's always something new happening. No matter how fed up the rest of the world is with us, we are still the fascination, the entertainment. Being from England, I think I have an observer's point of view. I think America's grown up and become more cynical. The political satire here is much more acute than when I first came. This program is a reflection of my [recent] American citizenship. I feel like I can say more. 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. Has there ever been an impression you couldn't master?
Ullman: Sometimes. What's really tough is that Cajun New Orleans accent. It's such a mixture of things — a really bizarre French-Caribbean sort of thing. But there's nobody I wouldn't try.

Watch a preview of Tracey Ullman's State of the Union in our Online Video Guide.

USA Today: State of Tracey Ullman's 'Union' is strong

State of Tracey Ullman's 'Union' is strong
By Robert Bianco, USA TODAY

If there's anything Tracey Ullman can't do, we've yet to see her try it.

Sunday, this prodigiously talented actress/comic/singer/impersonator — and recently minted American citizen — begins a whip-fast, five-episode tour of her adopted country. There are a few guests in this day-in-the-life spoof, most notably Scott Bakula. But mostly it's just Ullman in all her glory playing dozens of characters of all races and both sexes, some famous and some invented.

Be warned: Because she can do so much, initially she's doing too much. Though fun, the opener's skits are too short, and the characters too numerous, for any one joke to register.

But give the show a week to settle, and the strengths of Ullman's concept come to the fore. As the show grows clearer and funnier, you may even find yourself anticipating the return of favorite characters — like Padma Perkesh, the Bollywood pharmacist, or Chanel Monticello, a TSA agent who gives free X-rays to people who don't have health insurance.

And really, who can't appreciate the African movie star who comes to America to rescue a poor child from "the strip malls, the Taco Bell, that According to Jim television program. … Maybe, just maybe, my fame can save this boy from dying of stupidity." Nor is it possible to miss the point of Ullman's anti-maternal Dina Lohan, or her increasingly hysterical Campbell Brown — who reduces one report to "Horror, terror, horror, terror, nightmare, horror, fear. Back to you, Brian."

Of course, not everything works. An Andy Rooney bit is a bit too mean, and Ullman is more interested in David Beckham than you may be. But the skits that fail are quickly over, and with Ullman, there's always something better right around the corner.

Who would say no to a tour like that?

Tracey Talks Pittsburgh!

Tuned In: New citizen Ullman finds the humor in American obsessions
Friday, March 28, 2008

British comic actress Tracey Ullman is known by Americans for her ability to conjure up just about any accent one can imagine on Fox's "Tracey Ullman Show" in the '80s and HBO's "Tracey Takes On" in the '90s. So when you call her house and someone with a foreign accent answers and asks to take a message, you can't help wonder if it's actually Ullman.

When Ullman calls back a few minutes later, offering apologies for being on the phone with her TV-producer husband in India, I mention that I wondered if it was her earlier. Ullman laughs and tells Blanca, who took the message that I called, "He thought I was doing a character!"

Blanca, who's from Guatemala and has worked for Ullman for 22 years, can be heard laughing in the background.

"I have done that, really, when I don't want to talk to somebody," she said. "In England, we'd pretend we were an Indian pharmacist or something."

Perhaps then it's no coincidence that "Tracey Ullman's State of the Union," premiering at 10 p.m. Sunday on Showtime, features an American pharmacist of Indian ancestry who breaks into Bollywood-style song-and-dance numbers.

"We're obsessed with India and Bollywood," Ullman said. Her husband has been in India filming a British comedy series about call centers. "And there are so many Indian pharmacists in America. [On 'State of the Union'] it's a nice way to talk about drug interactions."

Ullman points to the drug ads on "60 Minutes" with their dire warnings as an example of one American obsession in her new series. She's emboldened after becoming an American in 2006. The British native now holds dual citizenship.

"After the last election, it was a real cathartic moment. I thought I'd like to get my say," Ullman said. "As you get older, you get more involved in politics. I've been here a long time, I had my children here and a lovely career here, and I just thought I wanted to join."

She found the citizenship process inspiring.

"I was in Downtown Los Angeles waving my American flag with 2,000 people who sound like Blanca," she recalled. "They showed us a film during the induction ceremony and played 'I'm Proud to be an American,' and there were clips of the moon landing and wheat fields and monster trucks."

That inspired "State of the Union." Each episode purports to show a day in the life of America, whether it's the travails of a movie star being interviewed (Ullman plays Helen Mirren and Judi Dench, among others) or the work of airport security agent Chanel Monticello.

Ullman joined forces with Showtime this go around, saying she liked the buzz the network has from its critical and cult hits, including "Weeds," "Californication" and "This American Life."

"I'd gotten into a cycle with HBO of doing specials instead of series," she said. "Showtime was enthusiastic about this idea, and HBO was in a state of flux last year and wasn't the easiest place to get a decision made."

Ullman shot five episodes in two weeks, playing David Beckham in one spurt of filming or Jamaican caregiver Marion Churchill in another.

Don't like one character? No worries. You won't have to wait long before another one arrives on screen. No sketch in "State of the Union" runs more than two minutes. Ullman said she wanted to make the sketches "more concise" and with a YouTube mentality.

"I think the length of the pieces we get sent on the Web are just great," she said. "People have no attention to focus on things. It's terrible nowadays. If you're going to do a 14-minute sketch, it has to be absorbing and flow and carry people along and make them want to watch it. Sometimes I watch sketches on shows and think, this should have been over ages ago. I get the joke, I get the joke!"

Although Ullman has yet to tackle a yinzer accent for a character, she did visit Pittsburgh to discuss a movie role with George Romero. Their collaboration never came to pass.

"Pittsburgh seems so intrinsically American," she said. "There's a sense of old industry there. It's a very regal sort of place. I was just visiting [Romero] and his daughter, and he had this solid old house that reminded me of England. Living in California, it's like living on a [movie] set. The houses feel so temporary!"

Thursday, March 27, 2008

USA Today: Tracey Ullman creates a more humorous 'Union'

Tracey Ullman creates a more humorous 'Union'
By Bill Keveney, USA TODAY
Tracey Ullman's State of the Union reflects a basic tenet of the star's adopted land: Keep it moving.

The England native, a longtime U.S. resident and recently minted citizen, knows something about American attention spans. She portrays 15 characters in just the first half-hour of her new Showtime sketch comedy series (Sunday, 10 p.m. ET/PT).

"It's like a YouTube-mentality show. I don't think anyone's got the focus at the moment for 14-minute sketches, so I decided to make it fast and furious," says Ullman, who has displayed her impersonation skills on Fox's Tracey Ullman Show and HBO's Tracey Takes On …. "It's never boring. If you don't like this bit, you'll like the next bit."

With each of Union's five episodes set up as a day in the life of the country, Ullman appears as dozens of people, both real —Sopranos star Tony Sirico, Huffington Post co-founder Arianna Huffington, Suzanne Somers — and her own creations. The latter reflect the nation's diversity, from an unexcitable Nebraska woman to a Jamaican caregiver in New York to an Indian pharmacist who breaks out into Bollywood musical numbers.

Ullman had 10 shooting days for the series, so makeup time for the dozens of characters had to be kept to a minimum.

"I know sometimes I'm not 100% convincing, but it's an energy, a confidence to playing" each character, she says. "There's one little thing we'll find that will imbue me with a sense of being that person. Renee Zellweger: I just put these eyelashes on and tried to think of Lamb Chop from Shari Lewis."

She particularly likes her unglamorous characters, such as a crass woman who has a thing for marrying death row killers. "I love being her. I got to have bad hair, cheap clothes, bad teeth, smoke cigarettes. I got to cry," she says.

Ullman, who has lived in the USA for 25 years, earned her citizenship in 2006. "I've had a wonderful experience in America. I've had a lovely career here. And after the last election, I wanted to vote. I wanted to join in."

As an American, she felt she had more freedom for "commenting on us." She takes some sharp swipes at American obsessions, such as prescription drugs, anti-aging regimens and celebrities, and "the daily dose of fear" delivered in the news.

In Union, narrated by Peter Strauss, Ullman also touches on the burden U.S. soldiers face. One of her characters is a sergeant who visits her son while on a three-hour furlough from Iraq.

Celebrities get poked, too. Environmentalist Laurie David appears in a fuel-guzzling private jet ("She's putting vegetable oil in her jet," Ullman jokes brightly); Malawi's biggest star does a reverse-Angelina Jolie by adopting an Ozark Mountains boy; and a blogging-obsessed Huffington sleeps with her laptop.

Ullman says Huffington, whom she knows, "will take it in good faith" when she has a writing break and can watch the show. "She's always blogging," she says in the commentator's Greek lilt.

As for all her characters, "I don't make fun of people. I'm really fascinated by people. Within the show, I'm not mean-spirited," she says.

"I just want to laugh. I don't take myself too seriously."

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

LA Weekly "State" Review

Tracey Ullman: The American Character

A one-actress-fits-all citizenry in State of the Union
By Robert Abele
Wednesday, March 26, 2008 - 11:00 am

After living in this country for more than 20 years — starring in television shows for us, raising a family here, winning our awards and cementing her status as a prodigiously gifted talent — British-born Tracey Ullman became a full-fledged U.S. citizen two years ago. I’m sure for Ullman the notion of answering questions on American history and the branches of government was easy enough, but I’d like to think she could have won Uncle Sam’s vigorous handshake just by doing the Renée Zellweger impersonation she serves up in her new Showtime sketch series, Tracey Ullman’s State of the Union. As she scrunched up her features and affected that Boop-ish gurgle to play the cloying actress as she’s vapidly promoting a piece of overwrought Oscar bait — about a woman afflicted with “chronic narcissistic squint” — I laughed like I haven’t in ages at celebrity-culture riffing. Now that’s patriotism, the kind that takes newfound membership as the ultimate excuse to start merrily throwing stones from the inside.

State of the Union is Ullman’s latest exercise in one-actress-fits-all comedy, as she dons assorted wigs, costumes and formidable accents to play a cross-dress-section of the American public, from the wealthy to the working class, from the spotlit to the spot-stained. She’s a tolerant Jamaican caregiver, a shaky Andy Rooney and a pregnant septuagenarian. She’s shameless plugmeister Suzanne Somers, a wise Nebraskan housewife, an eager-to-diversify Tony Sirico (a.k.a. Paulie Walnuts) from The Sopranos and an undocumented Bangladeshi cleaning woman. Peter Strauss delivers the omniscient narration, intoning at the start of the show a few facts about America, establishing the country’s colorful-personality bona fides, and kicking things off with, “Let’s visit its people for a day.”

Fans of the U.K. sketch series Little Britain — in which Matt Lucas and David Walliams inhabit a spectrum of English wack jobs — will recognize the similarity to the role Tom Baker’s stentorian voice plays on that show. But once Ullman starts with the chameleon follies, it’s very much her brand of melting-pot humor, a flipbook of characterizations that show off remarkable breadth as they send up our nation’s societal trends, hot-button issues and human foibles by the truckload.

The big difference with Ullman’s gallery show this time around is how many real people she impersonates, and how liberating it clearly is to add the boldface and the beautiful to her well-established roster of everyday zanies. But thankfully, the cruelty of her satirical beam is in direct proportion to the level of wealth and fame of her characters. So while she can mine plenty of laughs out of an Indian pharmacist who launches into Bollywood numbers to warble on the effects of certain prescription drugs, an eagle-eyed African-American airport security agent (a variation of the one she did in her ’90s series Tracey Takes On ...), or a Midwestern soldier mom who’s running out of time to be a parent, she reserves the real claws for spotlight seekers like Zellweger, Dina Lohan and Laurie David.

She devastatingly portrays Lohan as a drunken velvet-rope troll holding court at clubs with other celebrity moms and blithely treating her daughter’s missteps as a manageable currency in the public-eye business, telling her friends, “Remember, if your daughter cardiac-arrests in a nightclub once, shame on you. If she cardiac-arrests twice, shame ?on me.”

Larry David’s ex, meanwhile, comes in for a proper thumping, Ullman dishing up an insider-Hollywood take that razzes ?the environmental activist’s famously abrasive side, and her criticized use of ?a private jet (which we’re told in the sketch has been ecologically retrofitted to run on vegetable oil and potato skins). It’s a deliciously venal performance that you don’t have to be a global-warming disbeliever ?to enjoy.

Coming in for healthy ridicule as well are media figures, from anchor Linda Alvarez’s now-you-hear-it-now-you-don’t Hispanic pronunciations to husky-voiced ex-MSNBC-er Rita Cosby’s anything-for-a-story vibe, to the needless fearmongering on the 24-hour news networks. On that last front, Ullman gives us a version of dark-haired CNN newswoman Campbell Brown as an apocalyptic messenger whose stories on government reports or health scares are so vaguely laden with disaster alerts that they inspire widespread screaming from her own colleagues.

When you notice L.A.-based novelist Bruce Wagner’s name in the writing credits, it’s not a stretch to suppose he had a firm enough hand in the more surgically precise parodies of Hollywood culture, but they’re not all hit jobs. Ullman’s Arianna Huffington is a strangely sweet rendering, a portrait of the glamorous political pundit that has plenty of fun with her thick, ululating Greek accent yet also suggests that her ardor for blogging masks a palpable loneliness. (We see her literally blogging herself to sleep at night.)

One of my favorite celebrity-skewering bits, though, isn’t even a direct impersonation but a tweak on Madonna/Angelina–inspired African-baby chic, with Ullman playing a rich, press-hungry Malawi film star who comes to the Ozarks to adopt a poor boy from America.

“Maybe, just maybe,” she tells the gathered news crews, “my fame can save this boy from dying of stupidity.”

As with any sketch show, it’s all ultimately a hit-and-miss affair, but Ullman’s circus-freak virtuosity as a shape shifter — and director Troy Miller’s rapid-fire pacing — are enough to carry you past the rough spots. Besides, there are only five episodes in this short run, and with so many characters packed into each show — and nearly three dozen overall — one could argue it’s perhaps medically sound for Ullman’s channeling energies that she let us digest this bunch before Showtime (hopefully) orders more. Excess is enough of a problem in America without its newest constituent succumbing to it.

TRACEY ULLMAN’S STATE OF THE UNION | Showtime | Premieres Sunday, March 30, 10 p.m.
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Tracey Ullman's 'State of the Union' on Showtime



March 27, 2008

As Boy George might have put it, Tracey Ullman is a comic chameleon.

The versatile British-born actress unveils a new gallery of celebrity impersonations and eccentric characters in "Tracey Ullman's State of the Union," a five-week, limited half-hour series premiering Sunday at 10 p.m. on Showtime.

This fast-paced new show eschews the extended sketches of Ullman's earlier, Emmy-winning "Tracey Takes On ..." series in favor of short, satiric vignettes built around celebrities such as political blogger Arianna Huffington and actresses Renée Zellweger, Cameron Diaz, Helen Mirren and Judi Dench, along with quirky new creations such as airport security agent Chanel Monticello, Jamaican caregiver Marion Churchill and Tennessee pharmacist Padma Perkesh, who dispenses prescription warnings in the form of Bollywood musical numbers.

There are also some gender-bending male turns, including accident-prone soccer star David Beckham, "60 Minutes" curmudgeon Andy Rooney and "The Sopranos" actor Tony Sirico.

Ullman, who has bagged seven Emmys in her career, says she had a blast doing these five episodes and hopes Showtime will order more.

"I have had so many great experiences playing characters, but I sort of thought I had done that, because it's really quite exhausting," she says. "We did, I think, 80 episodes of 'Tracey Takes On ...,' which was grueling, because it was on film, and there was just one of me. The notion of starting the whole process all over again [made me think], 'Oh, can I do that again?' but I just loved it.

"I like impersonating real people, people like Arianna Huffington and [environmentalist] Laurie David and David Beckham ... and I loved the device of using stock footage and being more concise in the pieces instead of 14-minute sketches. It was a lovely format for me."

Based on real people

As for her original characters, they're often based on real-life people Ullman has observed, but what initially grabs the actress could be anything from the person's attitude to his or her hairstyle.

"I don't know quite what sets me off," says Ullman, who based brassy New Yorker Fern Rosenthal on the mother of a close friend. "When I first came to America, I was just so impressed with people's confidence. When I first went to New York and met the parents of a friend who lived on Long Island, they were just shockingly forward and funny to me. That had a huge impact on me, coming as I did from a country where people are a bit inhibited.... With both Fern Rosenthal and the old makeup artist Ruby Romaine, their hair is based on the people's real hair - American hair!"

Dina Lohan, mother of wayward actress Lindsay, probably won't want to TiVo this new series, which skewers her dubious parenting skills pretty mercilessly, but nearly all of Ullman's impersonations and creations are crafted with genuine affection.

"Ultimately, I think there is almost always some redeeming quality there," says Ullman, who started impersonating neighbors and teachers during childhood. "The hardest characters for me to play are people that I really don't like, people who are extreme or mean- spirited.

"There was a lawyer I played in the 'Takes On ... ' show, Sydney Cross, who was based somewhat on Leslie Abramson, the Menendez brothers' lawyer. She had incredible ambition and guile. I thought, 'You know what? She's just lonely.' I pictured her apartment at home filled with Nautilus equipment that had never been assembled."

Blackface without protest

That gentle and largely respectful undertone may be what has helped Ullman pull off ethnic characters, including working in blackface, without any notable viewer protest. She remembers that she and executive producer James L. Brooks may have been a little nervous the first time they tried it on "The Tracey Ullman Show" two decades ago, but on a show such as "State of the Union," such characters are simply part of the diverse American palette.

With her celebrity impersonations, Ullman is by no means timid, but she hopes the real stars enjoy her take on their personalities. She's met Huffington a few times and is aware that the publisher of the online Huffington Post is "thrilled" to be among these characters.

"I hope all the people I play take it in good fun, because I just adore Tony Sirico and 'The Sopranos,'" she says.

"Obviously I am taking artistic license with their lives a little. I'm not doing 'Saturday Night Live' impersonations with political satire, I'm doing them with my own personality."

She's Already Thinking Ahead!

Tracey Ullman targets celebrities like Dina Lohan, David Beckham in new show

TORONTO — British-born comic Tracey Ullman takes on big-name celebrities and everyday citizens alike in her ribald new show about America, "Tracey Ullman's State of the Union," but it's her scathing portrayal of stage-mother-from-hell Dina Lohan that is easily the most shockingly hilarious.

Ullman plays the Lohan matriarch as a hard-core party fiend profanely regaling other stage mothers with tales of her daughter Lindsay's drug overdoses when she gets word that the "Mean Girls" star is getting married and she's not invited.

"I should never have restarted her (expletive) heart," says a slurring Lohan as portrayed by Ullman, cocktail in hand in a Las Vegas nightclub. "I hope she (expletive) ODs again."

Ullman, 48, giggles on the line from Los Angeles when asked if she's worried Dina Lohan might take serious offence when the five-part comedy series premieres this Sunday night on Showtime in the U.S. and on the Movie Network/Movie Central in Canada.

She points out that her version of Lohan was drunk and emotional in the scene.

"She didn't know her own mind at that point," pooh-poohs Ullman. "These kids, they break your heart. I don't think she knew what she was saying."

Lohan is just one of many celebrities who receive the Ullman treatment during the show's five half-hour episodes, each of which chronicles a single day in the United States.

Among many other stars, Ullman takes on a squinting Renee Zellweger and a pipsqueak-voiced David Beckham - Posh is simply heard shrieking from the next room about getting her boys out to play with "Piloh Shitt." But she also plays everyday creations that include an Indian-born pharmacist who frequently breaks out into Bollywood numbers, a world-weary Jamaican nurse and a white trash loser with the hots for death-row prisoners.

All of them were inspired by people and characters Ullman has noticed after more than 20 years living in the U.S.

Although her two teenaged children were born in America, Ullman only became a citizen two years ago, and says she still feels like something of an outsider observing from a distance an endlessly fascinating culture.

"I am still British and I have my European vantage point and my British sensibility," she says.

"I've had a terrific career here and there are so many elements of America that I just love, but being from Britain did give me a psychological freedom to say a bit more, and political satire and satire generally is in a much healthier state than when I first came here, so the time for this show seemed right."

She remembers Americans finding the satirical puppet show "Spitting Image" shocking 20 years ago for taking potshots at politicians and the U.S. president, "but now Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert are doing it every night. Americans seem much better able to make fun of themselves now."

Ullman was a comedian from an early age - after her father's sudden death of a heart attack when she was six years old as he read her a bedtime story, she routinely performed for her grief-stricken mother to cheer her up.

"She always knew I'd do it; it seemed inevitable when I was standing on the window sill in her bedroom entertaining her," Ullman says with a laugh about her mother, who still lives in Britain. "I mean what else could I do?"

By the 1980s, Ullman was well-known in Britain as a comedian and a pop star - she had a hit song in 1983 with a cover of a sweet Kirsty MacColl pop song, "They Don't Know." She still loves the song.

"That's one of the real highlights of my career. I adore that song, I never get tired of hearing it, and she wrote such beautiful melodies, with bridges - you just don't hear that anymore," she says of MacColl, who died in a boating accident in 2000.

Ullman burst onto the American scene in 1987 with the award-winning series, "The Tracey Ullman Show," on the Fox network when it was still struggling to find its feet. "The Simpsons" was a spinoff from the show.

She later starred in various HBO specials, and the acclaimed sketch-comedy series "Tracey Takes On." She returned to HBO with the 2003 special "Tracey Ullman in the Trailer Tales."

"I've really enjoyed doing it all again," Ullman says of "State of The Union." "I enjoyed impersonating real people, and I find that gave the show a bit of an edge. It was so much fun."

And she's already thinking up a new slate of targets if the show returns, Ullman adds, mulling over everyone from despised celebutantes to big-voiced pop stars.

"I have to think ahead. Paris Hilton is pretty 10 minutes ago, I think, but Josh Groban - I just want to dress up as Josh Groban, I don't know why. I guess I like the hair. And the possibilities are endless since I've got a big box of wigs."

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Reuters "State" Review

Showtime displays the many faces of Tracey Ullman
Tue Mar 25, 2008 10:03pm EDT

By Barry Garron

LOS ANGELES (Hollywood Reporter) - It's hardly a secret that, when it comes to creating characters and impersonating celebrities, there's no one better than Tracey Ullman. It takes a village just to hold all of them.

Putting that enormous talent to work in a one-time special is a no-brainer as HBO has demonstrated time and again, but figuring out a way to package Ullman's brilliance in a series, week after week, is harder. American viewers haven't been enthralled by a primetime series with great characters and sketch comedy since the heyday of Carol Burnett during the 1970s.

"Tracey Ullman's State of the Union" just might be the right vehicle, but if so, it needs some customizing. Each half-hour show consists of a single day in the United States. In scene after scene, Ullman presents Americans from Los Angeles to New York and plenty of points in between. Many, but not all, of these characters show up week after week.

The premiere introduces many of the characters. I counted 16, but I could have missed one or two. It's a showcase for Ullman's remarkable skill, but it is done too fast for the comedy to percolate. We barely have time to figure out who the character is before there's another one. And another.

Things are better in succeeding episodes. There's more emphasis on developing a sketch than on seeing how many characters can be packed into Ullman's comedy phone booth.

Several of Ullman's creations stand out immediately: Chanel Monticello, a airport luggage inspector, is hilarious. Also smart are Marion Churchill, a Jamaican caregiver; Padma Perkesh, an Indian pharmacist who gives advice Bollywood-style; and Doris Basham, a senior citizen caught with Canadian meds.

Interestingly, though, Ullman's impersonations are rarely as funny. Each week includes a spoof of Laurie David, the globe-trotting environmentalist and soon-to-be ex-wife of Larry David. Considering her relatively low public profile, the amount of time spent lampooning her environmental extravagance is massive overkill. Same with the weekly shtick on Arianna Huffington and oft-injured soccer star David Beckham. Once is plenty.

Ullman's impersonations of other celebs, including Renee Zellweger, Helen Mirren, Judy Dench and Suzanne Somers, are admirable but not nearly as witty or impressive as her take on quasi-celebrities. Perhaps Ullman simply has more room to maneuver as Linda Alvarez, a news anchor in Buffalo, N.Y., and Dina Lohan, who dominates the parties with the other moms of out-of-control star daughters.

The series launches after new episodes of "The Tudors." Not much audience flow, for sure, but definitely a night of original and attractive series.


Multiple roles: Tracey Ullman

Guest star: Scott Bakula

Other cast: Jennifer Fitzgerald, Christopher Goodman, Jo Ann Harris, Lily Holleman, Ajay Mehta, Bon Ogle, Larry Poindexter, Valeri Ross, Dylan Sprayberry.

Narrator: Peter Strauss

Reuters/Hollywood Reporter

Monday, March 24, 2008

The Canadian Press: "State of the Union"

Tracey Ullman plays characters real and imagined on 'State of the Union'

SANTA MONICA, Calif. — Tracey Ullman prefers pathetic.

"I don't want to be the pretty girl. I just want to dress up and look terrible on TV," Ullman says of the quirky characters she plays on "Tracey Ullman's State of the Union," her new sketch-comedy series on Showtime (it airs in Canada on Movie Central and The Movie Network).

"You know, I've always wanted to be the ugly stepsister or the person with the problem."

Styled as a day in the life of America, "State of the Union" takes Ullman from coast to coast in a flurry of fast-flying impersonations. Ullman produced the five-episode series with her husband, Allan McKeown.

"The show's title gives me an excuse to take the nation's pulse," says the British-born actress, who became a U.S. citizen in 2006 after living here more than two decades.

On the "State of the Union" premiere Sunday, Ullman's cast of characters includes a weary illegal-immigrant worker in Manhattan, a tractor-riding farmer's wife in North Carolina, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, political pundit Arianna Huffington, former "Sopranos" star Tony Sirico, soccer superstar David Beckham and Lindsay Lohan's mom.

Upcoming episodes include Ullman's takes on Helen Mirren, Cameron Diaz, Renee Zellweger, and, in a send-up of Angelina Jolie's philanthropic efforts, a superstar from Malawi who comes to the U.S. to adopt American kids.

But Ullman has a special fondness for a character named Gretchen Pincus, a tacky, teary-eyed, low-rent lady who meets her convict-husbands on the website

To go full-Gretchen, Ullman decided to smoke during production - after 21 years of abstinence.

"To wear cheap clothes, put in some horrible front teeth with a big gap, smoke 10 cigarettes and, like, just sob - that's heaven on a stick for me," Ullman says.

Chatting in her production office in Santa Monica, Calif., Ullman pulses with energy, morphing seamlessly, mid-sentence, into the show's various quintessentially American characters.

"Tracey is an American-o-phile," says Bruce Wagner, a writer-producer on "State of the Union." "She's kind of obsessed with America . . . Tracey wanted to show the entire spectrum of this country, not just political but emotional."

That spectrum includes what Ullman calls one of her "weirdest" impersonations - her mutation into curmudgeonly "60 Minutes" commentator Andy Rooney for "a cathartic, truthful, improvised rant" in the show's fourth episode.

"Tracey really does channel people," Wagner says. "If she doesn't feel the character somewhere in her heart and her stomach and body, it doesn't matter how brilliant the monologue, she won't connect to it . . . And once she's in costume, she's completely in character and she won't respond to anyone unless she's in character. She's almost in a trance."

Ullman broke into U.S. television in 1987 with the award-winning series, "The Tracey Ullman Show," on the then-fledgling Fox network. In the '90s, she starred in specials on HBO, plus the acclaimed sketch-comedy series "Tracey Takes On." She returned to HBO with the 2003 special "Tracey Ullman in the Trailer Tales."

With the move to Showtime, Ullman returns to her unique brand of sociopolitical commentary.

"We've always had a great tradition of political satire in England," says Ullman, who has retained her British citizenship. "Now there's so much more satire in America than when I first moved here.

"I like that Americans can laugh at themselves more . . . And now I want to join in, now that you've got problems," she jokes, referring to the state of the union's economy. "Now, as an American citizen, I can join the discussion and I won't end up in Guantanamo Bay."

Newsweek: At Liberty to Laugh

At Liberty to Laugh

Tracey Ullman just became a citizen. So how does she celebrate? By making fun of her new home.

By Joshua Alston | NEWSWEEK
Mar 31, 2008 Issue | Updated: 12:53 p.m. ET Mar 22, 2008

Video link

America is the land of optimism, and since becoming a naturalized U.S. citizen last year, Tracey Ullman, the British-born, shape-shifting comedian, is still a bit drunk on sunny-side spirit. That's the only possible explanation for why she thinks opportunistic television personality Rita Cosby won't spontaneously combust when she sees Ullman's impression of her. "I think she'll have a sense of humor about it," says Ullman, 48. Oh, really? It's hard to imagine she'll be laughing, in that hoarse, husky voice that Ullman mimics so perfectly, when Cosby sees her doppelgänger offering sex acts to prison guards in order to broadcast live from inside an execution chamber while a prisoner is being lethally injected. But woe unto him who is close enough to find out.

"State of the Union," Ullman's first sketch-comedy show since becoming a Yank, is full of celebrity takedowns. In addition to Cosby, blog baroness Arianna Huffington; Lindsay's mom, Dina Lohan; Larry David's environmentalist ex-wife, Laurie, and actress Renée Zellweger are exposed to Ullman's satirical wrath. "A lot of it is easier than it looks," Ullman says. "With Renée Zellweger, for example, all you basically do is just squint as much as you can." But the most daring and provocative sketches feature her imagined characters, whose foibles echo some of the country's thorniest issues. Each episode of the show (which debuts March 30 on Showtime) covers a day in the life of America, meting out dozens of characters in YouTube-friendly vignettes. Peter Strauss narrates as the camera bounces from city to city, dropping in on the members of Ullman's motley crew. There's an airport security screener who uses a luggage X-ray to examine and diagnose the uninsured. There's a soldier who visits her son at his soccer game during her three-hour furlough. There's an elderly woman who, when busted trying to smuggle prescription drugs from Canada, says she had crossed the border to see an Anne Murray concert. There's a rich Malawian actress who flies in to adopt a poor white child and take him back to her country. It's a warts-and-all look at America, and the warts earn top billing.

But while it is her comedic right to point out the country's flaws, is it her place? "Becoming a citizen freed me up to say what I want to say because I feel like I can't be sent to Guantánamo Bay now," she says in her natural British accent, the one that seems least natural coming out of her mouth. Despite all the characters Ullman puts on display, viewers might be reminded of one from another show: the dentist on "Seinfeld" who converts to Judaism so he can get away with telling Jewish jokes. Ullman doesn't worry about some viewers' thinking the show is too cutting. When she talks about America, it becomes clear that she kids because she loves. She's maintained dual residency since she got married here in 1983. Her son and daughter were born in the United States, as were some of her biggest professional successes, including her previous sketch-comedy shows "Tracey Takes On …" and "The Tracey Ullman Show," which gave a platform to another comedy series with a taste for arch satire: "The Simpsons."

It's telling that Ullman waited so long to become naturalized. She certainly didn't need to for her career—she's won seven Emmys and a Golden Globe—but she was tired of watching from the bench. "It's just something I wanted to do," she says. "I wanted to vote and be involved politically." She cast her first vote on Super Tuesday for Barack Obama, but she won't be playing him on her show. "I thought of having him sneaking off to have a cigarette, and he would be singing 'Nothing Compares 2 U.' But the song would have been too expensive." His opponent will escape Ullman's wrath, too. "With Hillary, there's just not a lot there," she says. "Not a lot that's funny, I mean."

What makes "Union" so fascinating to watch is the way it shows Ullman fully embracing America, being willing to accept it in spite of its flaws—to dig through the dirt to get to the truffles. "When I'm in England, I'm always having to defend this country," she says. "Brits will talk about something they saw on television here and say, 'What's wrong with them?' I try to explain that isn't representative of America as a whole. There's a lot to love about this country." Not the least of which: we give her great material.

New York Magazine TV Review: "State of the Union"

America (The Cable Show)
A newly naturalized Tracey Ullman riles up her adopted country, Arianna Huffington included.

By John Leonard
Published Mar 24, 2008

Illustration by Henry Janson
(Photo: Courtesy of Showtime)

Of the dozens of characters Tracey Ullman embodies, distends, devours, and detonates in her flagrant new sketch-comedy series, State of the Union, my favorite is Padma Perkish, a “full-service” pharmacist in Oak Ridge, Tennessee. Padma, with her freakish patter of Bombay bombast and babu baby talk, is not only eager to supply whatever meds her customers need for everything from erectile dysfunction to bipolar flip-out, she also insists on accompanying each sale with a complete Bollywood musical number, stripping off her white coat to strut upon a cheesy set like some blue-skinned avatar of Krishna. This is invariably hilarious, but never more so than on the occasion of a mishap involving a Suzanne Somers Vagisizer, available with or without cilantro.

I’ve decided not to explain the Vagisizer. As for Suzanne Somers, well, she is another of Ullman’s characters. A majority of these are made up, like Gretchen Pincus, a “white widow” who specializes in marrying prisoners on death row. Or Doris Basham, a senior citizen busted for busing prescription drugs across the border from criminal Canada. Or Chanel Monticello, an airport security guard who gives out free chest X-rays to passengers who lack health insurance. Or Linda Alvarez, a Buffalo TV anchor whose idea of international news is either Paris Hilton having a miscarriage in Dubai or Angelina Jolie in South Africa being beaten up by an angry mob of her own children.

But a surprising number are actual people who, after seeing what Ullman has done to them, may wish they weren’t. While Nancy Pelosi, Andy Rooney, and Helen Mirren come off relatively unscathed, the same cannot be said for CNN’s Campbell Brown, nor Lindsay Lohan’s mother, Dina, nor “soccer star and underwear salesman” David Beckham, nor, especially, Cameron Diaz, who giggles an explanation of female genital mutilation. And even they are lucky compared to super-blogger Arianna Huffington, who cries herself to sleep each night with a laptop computer instead of a man; Hollywood sweetie-pie Renée Zellweger, who emerges from frontal lobotomizing with a “chronic narcissistic squint”; and Larry David’s ex-wife, Laurie, who is repeatedly ridiculed for a radical-chic environmentalism somehow symbolized by a Daryl Hannah minivan that runs “on cadavers and goat shit.”

Which isn’t to say that State of the Union is merely wicked fun, mean games, and goofy looks. Ullman’s America needs work. Each of her half-hours is loosely organized around a theme, such as illegal immigration (12 million undocumented workers), the urban homeless (3.5 million, 1 million living in their cars), children needing adoption, and the exorbitant cost of medical care. But “loosely” is, in Ullman’s case, more than an operative word; it’s practically an aesthetic. In her mix-master mimicry and splenetic seizures, the ether realms of TV talk and celebrity culture are cross-examined by an underclass of caregivers, washerwomen, war vets, hospital patients, and domestics. As the jokes go up like tracer fire—about nuns, bankers, face-lifts, red states, and Alzheimer’s—somewhere underground a reality principle rumbles toward a reckoning. How funny is it, really, that an African princess should adopt a blue-eyed American boy and fly him home to eat nutritional roots?

It’s been fascinating to watch Ullman evolve from, say, Imogene Coca and Carol Burnett to something leaner and meaner, like a young Whoopi Goldberg. Or Lenny Bruce, with his surreal jive and need to shock. Or Lily Tomlin, signaling in coded transmissions through a worm hole to some parallel universe. Or Anna Deavere Smith, chameleon and exorcist, seeing around corners and speaking in tongues. Or, of course, Robin Williams, before all the bad movies and worse career choices, a brilliant mind unmade of equal parts politics and paranoia, music video and psychotherapy, a scrambled shaman egghead and Jack–in–a–Pandora’s box. Think of America as performance art.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Tracey Interviewed By The Wallstreet Journal

Q&A: Tracey Ullman
March 21, 2008 6:40 p.m.

She may be British-born, but comedian Tracey Ullman takes on America in her new show, "State of the Union."

The Showtime series follows Ms. Ullman as she portrays a multitude of characters, ranging from celebrities to airport security workers, in quick, laugh-out-loud skits. "State of the Union" also marks Ms. Ullman's return to sketch comedy after a nearly ten-year break since her last show, "Tracey Takes On…". The Wall Street Journal's Lyneka Little recently sat down with the funny woman to discuss her take on comedy and American life.

WSJ: How did you come up with the concept behind "Sate of the Union"?

Ms. Ullman: I became an American in 2006. It got me thinking about what is my America and what's my perception of America. That's why I like the title "State of The Union." And I wanted to do something that was like today's YouTube mentality, where no one can focus on anything for two minutes.

I'm such an eclectic person, I couldn't just write the show with one character. It just doesn't interest me. It interested me to be a whole mix of people -- celebrities and people that I have known. I really wanted to be David Beckham because he's from where my husband's from in England. I feel like I know that voice so well.

WSJ: Your sketches incorporate everything from Bollywood to the pharmaceutical industry. How did you come up with these ideas?

Ms. Ullman: I'm fascinated by Bollywood. My husband [producer Allan McKeown] is making a television show in India, so we've been going to India a lot. My pharmacist is Indian. So I thought it was a nice way to incorporate some dance, some Bollywood, an Indian and some drug interactions. America is obsessed with drugs.

WSJ: You take on African-American personalities, as well. Have you ever gotten any backlash from playing different ethnicities?

Ms. Ullman: I've gotta try and be everybody. I've always gotten a positive reaction to doing African-American characters. I think it was 1987 that I noticed Eddie Murphy played a white man. I thought, I can play a black one. I think I do it in the right spirit. My criteria is, the people exist, they sound like that, look like that, and have occupations like that. I've impersonated Asian people, young people, old people, and Jewish people. I've never heard anything negative.

WSJ: What made you want to portray Laurie David, former wife of comedian Larry David?

Ms. Ullman: I like her voice, I like her determination. I played tennis with her a couple of times. When we were writing it, she got a divorce, so we incorporated that into our pieces. I know that some people won't know who she is, but I think she makes a good point about environmentalism and activism in America today. She's flying around in a jet powered by vegetable oil.

I'm sick of environmentalism. If I see that iceberg dropping in the ocean one more bloody time… That poor polar bear stranded on a flipping rock! The news is so frightening and we scare the s--- out of ourselves. That's why I put Campbell Brown in. [Announcer's voice:] "There's an airborne virus that could kill millions in a bubonic plague..."

WSJ: How do you get into your various roles?

Ms. Ullman: I love studying people. I've loved it since I was a child. Some people played the piano; I used to imitate my neighbors, my family and my teachers -- but in very a sort of documentary way. I never did it to make fun or be mean.

WSJ: What other comedians have inspired you?

Ms. Ullman: My inspiration are people like Peter Sellers and Alec Guinness. Carol Burnett as well. I used to watch Gilda Radner in the late '70s, and Eddie Murphy is just a genius. The table full of people he played in the "Nutty Professor," I mean, I just gasped.

WSJ: You seem to have good timing with networks. You were one of Fox's first hits, then went to HBO and are now at Showtime just as it is becoming known for its original content.

Ms. Ullman: Right. I'm going to do the QVC next, I think. I think we can incorporate selling stuff with some eclectic stuff. Who knows?

WSJ: What do you think is the state of America now?

Ms. Ullman: I got married in America in '83. America has changed a lot since. It seems to be less naïve, less idealistic, less patriotic. When I first came to America there wasn't much political satire like the Colbert Report, Jon Stewart and Chappelle. Everyone was nicer then. Now, everyone is a little more cynical because it's an older nation -- and I'm older. It's an interesting year to be doing a show and an interesting year politically. You can get way too caught up in becoming an MSNBC junkie. There's speculation and analysis every single hour.

WSJ: What's next for you?

Ms. Ullman: We'll see if I get to do more of this. That will be great fun. Travel. Maybe some theatre. I like doing my own thing.

Write to Lyneka Little at

Friday, March 21, 2008

Tracey in Women's Wear Daily

Altered States
By Jacob Bernstein
Being a professional comedian may be hazardous to your health.

John Belushi and Chris Farley died at 33, Richard Pryor at 65. And that’s to say nothing of the comedians who have merely suffered breakdowns (Dave Chappelle), endured nearly fatal staph infections (Rosie O’Donnell), gone to jail for picking up transsexual prostitutes (Eddie Murphy) and spewed racist outbursts in comedy clubs in front of hundreds of people (Michael Richards).

Yet at 47, Tracey Ullman is practically the poster child for physical and mental health. She has been married to the same man for 21 years. She has made tens of millions of dollars and held on to them. She has lived in L.A. for two decades and still hasn’t had plastic surgery. “She’s one of the only actresses working today who doesn’t look like a reconstructed granny,” says John Waters, who hired Ullman for 2004’s A Dirty Shame. “She’s fearless.”

“I’m a pretty happy person,” says Ullman at her editing studio in Los Angeles, where she’s wearing a white shirt and a gray skirt from Junya Watanabe. “I watch PBS documentaries and knit. I have nice friends. I got out of Hackbridge.”

Does she at least have a psychoanalyst to thank? “No. I just have a cup of tea and carry on. When the Germans were going to invade England, there were all these posters saying, ‘Keep calm and carry on,’ and I think it’s a fantastic motto.”

Since she became a household name in 1987 with her eponymous, Carol Burnett-like half-hour show on Fox, Ullman has practiced a form of comedy that is rarely mean-spirited or angry. “There’s absolutely no venom in her work,” says Meryl Streep, who worked with Ullman on the 1985 film Plenty and is one of her closest friends. “She loves the people she invents. She loves the ones who really exist and whose egos she pricks, but it’s not sadistic like other less-evolved comics involved in their own vendetta against the world.”

Arianna Huffington, another good friend, says this is because Ullman is driven more by a desire to learn about people than an impulse to make fun of them. “She’s a little like an anthropologist in the way she’s constantly monitoring everyone around her. She’s just always listening and watching and drawing fantastical conclusions about people.”

Which more or less describes Ullman’s latest expedition, State of The Union, a once-a-week series that comes to Showtime March 30. As the title implies, it’s about life in America as seen through the eyes of more than 50 people who live here. They include an undocumented worker from Bangladesh, an Indian pharmacist at a store like Wal-Mart and several very well-known men and women, among them Huffington, Renée Zellweger, Laurie David, Andy Rooney and Nancy Pelosi. All of whom Ullman plays, and all of whom she seems to like in one way or another.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Variety Reviews "State of the Union"

Tracey Ullman's State of the Union
(Series -- Showtime, Sun. March 30, 10 p.m.)
Filmed in Los Angeles by Allan McKeown Presents. Executive producers, McKeown, Tracey Ullman; producers, Bruce Wagner, Gail Parent, Shawn Wilt; director, Troy Miller; writers, Ullman, Wagner, Parent, Craig DiGregorio.

With: Tracey Ullman, Scott Bakula.
Narrator: Peter Strauss.

Tracey Ullman has joked about her role in suckling "The Simpsons" -- a reminder that her early Fox sketch show failed, while the animated family birthed within it lived and (fabulously) prospered. The 20-year gap, however, has brought TV to a place much in need of Ullman's talents -- an acerbic, scatter-gun approach to comedy that, even when it misses, inspires admiration for her chameleon-like gifts and ferocity in attacking targets large, small and utterly obscure. Comedy-variety isn't an easy genre to duplicate, but with sitcoms in decline, Ullman's return provides a welcome jolt to the funny bone.

The loose template for each half-hour is a day in the life of America, with Ullman playing virtually all the characters, both famous and fabricated. They range from Arianna Huffington ("Blogs and kisses," she writes, signing off her daily diary while watching "Charlie Rose" alone in bed), environmentalist Laurie David and a squinting Renee Zellweger to an African-American FAA baggage inspector, a woman who marries death-row inmates and an Indian pharmacist who dispenses advice by way of elaborate, high-pitched Bollywood numbers.

With each fast-paced segment soberly introduced by narrator Peter Strauss, "State of the Union" moves swiftly, dispatching its varied subjects in rapid-fire fashion. This is wise, since if you don't like the bit where she plays an investment banker carrying on an affair with her co-worker (Scott Bakula), well, just wait a minute and another personality, Hydra-like, will rear it head.

While there are no sacred cows in Ullman's parallel universe, there is a consistent theme if you look closely: A recurring, not-so-subtle jab at the U.S. media -- a toxic medley of cloying human interest stories and breathless celebrity, where every disease-of-the-week movie star vehicle is generating "Oscar buzz," newscasters like Rita Cosby (with Ullman perfectly capturing her hoarse rumble) literally crawl on the floor for a "scoop" and anchor Campbell Brown does an entire piece merely by breathlessly repeating, "Horror. Terror. Nightmare. Horror. Fear."

Appearing virtually ageless, Ullman (who exec produces with her husband, Allan McKeown) doubtless spreads both the financial pain and chore of donning all that makeup by shooting multiple scenes of herself as, say, "60 Minutes' " Andy Rooney or notorious mom Dina Lohan, then scattering snippets across multiple episodes. Nevertheless, each half-hour packs in a laudable assortment of such bite-sized confections, and if there's a repetitive quality to the satire (especially when it comes to mocking actors), well, that's more a quibble than a full-throated criticism.

Showtime has scored some recent coups with its original programming, but this one might be the most impressive -- having the foresight to bring back a talent like Ullman, whose act seems so familiar, at a point where she couldn't be more timely or fresh.

At least within Ullman's cutting overview of America, in fact, it can be reported without reservation that the "State of the Union" is strong.
More than one option

* (Person) Peter Strauss
Narrator, Voice, Executive Producer
* (Person) Peter Strauss
Executive Producer

Camera, Anthony Hardwick; production designer, Dan Butts; editors, Kabir Akhtar, Rick Kent; music, Richard Gibbs; casting, Marisa Ross, Alyson Silverberg. 30 MIN.

Tracey At "The Tudors" Season 2 Premiere With "State" Writer/Producer, Bruce Wagner ran into Tracy Ullman, star of the upcoming Showtime series Tracy Ullman’s State of the Union, at the premiere of the Tudors in New York City’s Times Square.

She is, quite honestly, one of the nicest/most down to earth people you’ll ever meet. So, here’s my endorsement. Support Tracy Ullman’s State of the Union. You won’t be disappointed.

Here’s Tracy with Bruce Wagner, one of the producers of State of the Union.

Tracy Ullman’s State of the Union premieres March 30th at 10PM ET/PT, immediately after the second season premiere of The Tudors at 9PM ET/PT.

See more images at "The Tudors" premiere below.

Fantastic "State of the Union" Review!

210SA - San Antonio's weekly entertainment, culture and events publication

CHRIS QUINN: ‘State of the Union’ is in stitches with Ullman’s satire

I was all prepared to dive into a long diatribe about how intense exposure to boredom can inadvertently cause forms of leprosy to spontaneously breakout in performance artists.

I was going to link the above buffoonish statement into this column about Tracey Ullman's latest TV excursion: “Tracey Ullman's State of the Union” on Showtime.

Then I had a revelation that most critics have at one point in their career. Maybe I should watch the material first. So I watched a few episodes and wound up laughing my rear off. I had not laughed this hard in months. I had forgotten how funny Ullman is.

In fact, From now on, I may start watching these shows before I write about them.

It's like a whole new world is opening before my eyes. This is inspiring me to re-read my job description to see what else I have been doing wrong around here.

Because I totally judged the show based on what little I had seen in press releases and was convinced it was going to suck harder than Frank Caliendo's recent TBS debacle.

Instead, I spent an evening with a smile on my face and an Ullman on the tube.

The show follows the telling lives of both fictitious and real American personalities, all portrayed amazingly by Ullman.

Granted her impersonations sometimes seem like the same character, but they are good enough to keep you from changing the channel. So soon you realize you are watching the funniest new cable show since “Extras.”

What really makes Ullman's new series and impersonations shine is the material behind them.
The writing and jokes are almost the caliber of late-night talk monologues, because they are better. Ullman's ability to present an outlandish parity of America's elite is hilarious and dead on.

Andy Rooney, Rita Cosby, Laurie David, Campbell Brown, Nancy Pelosi, Cameron Diaz, Arianna Huffington and Reneé Zellweger are a few of the egocentric giants Ullman points her ripping commentary on.
When I saw her do Andy Rooney, I split my pants I laughed so hard.

Into this big-name game hunt, she intertwines characters through which she tells the story of modern America as seen through her fairly new naturalized eyes. (By the way, Welcome to the club! Congratulations! Oh, just so you know, Baby Boomers are retiring and we have to pick up the bill. So grab the nearest AARP member and make with the taxes already.)

Despite all the crazy junk flung about this world, a self-centered nature seems to reign. Ullman keys into this brilliantly, because no one embodies a self-serving, self-righteous and self-important attitude more than celebrities, journalists and politicians.

They suck? We suck? Yes and maybe. But at least through eunuch comedians like Ullman, we can laugh about it.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Tracey Ullman, This Morning on, "The Early Show"

Tracey Ullman: "Happy Schizophrenic"
New Show Of Brit-Born Comic, Now U.S. Citizen, Is Impersonation-Heavy, Aims At U.S. Culture
NEW YORK, March 18, 2008

Tracey Ullman wastes no time poking fun at her adopted country in her new Showtime effort, "Tracey Ullman's State of the Union."

The British-born comic and actress, who's been a United States citizen for a year-and-a-half, gives her unique take on life in the U.S., impersonating one celeb after another, including males, in zapping America's celebrity-obsessed, 24-hour news culture.

Targets for her barbs include the likes Cameron Diaz, Renée Zellweger, Dina Lohan, Tony Sirico and David Beckham, as well as politicians and pundits such as House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Arianna Huffington.

The show also has a lineup of original characters reflecting a cross-section of American society as Ullman sees it, from an Indian pharmacist, to a homeless woman without health insurance, to a soldier on temporary leave from Iraq.

Asked on The Early Show Tuesday by Russ Mitchell how she goes seamlessly and flawlessly from one character to another, Ullman replied, simply, that she's a "happy schizophrenic!"

Ullman is perhaps best-known in the U.S. for her series, "The Tracey Ullman Show," which aired on Fox from 1987-1990. It earned multiple Emmys, and is credited with spawning "The Simpsons."


Monday, March 17, 2008

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Semi-Flashback: Candid Tracey Votes

Here Tracey is last month voting for the Screen Writers Guild solution to the writer's strike that lasted from late 2007, until early this year, 2008.

British born writer and actress Tracey Ullman smiles after voting at the Writers Guild of America special election in Beverly Hills, California February 12, 2008, with the expectation that a 14-week-old strike against major film and TV studios will be lifted. REUTERS/Fred Prouser (UNITED STATES)