Friday, March 7, 2008

From Variey: It's Showtime for Ullman's 'Union'

Comic turns celebs into recurring characters
By CYNTHIA LITTLETON
The woman of a thousand characters is at it again.

Tracey Ullman takes the measure of contempo America in her new Showtime sketch series "Tracey Ullman's State of the Union," which begins its five-segment run on March 30.

And for the first time, she's tackling real boldface names and turning them into recurring characters. She does David Beckham to a T, Tony Sirico to a goodfella-fare-thee-well and a right royal job on Helen Mirren and Judi Dench. But the standouts are her takes on pundit Arianna Huffington and environmental activist Laurie David.

They're not entirely flattering portrayals, but they're nuanced enough to be more than a series of cheap shots. Ullman deftly captures the mien of both mavens, who pop in and out of the show that is done faux docu style, with each seg offering a look at a day in the life of America, from Beverly Hills to Appalachia.

"I like Arianna. I think she's a very stabilizing influence in ('State of the Union')," Ullman says in her best Arianna voice. "She's a good character for us because she can comment on things."

Ullman's Arianna is, not surprisingly, blog-obsessed enough to sleep with her laptop ("I do enough blog jokes to last a lifetime," Ullman admits).

Ullman's David is a green crusader, one who's sincere enough to worry about how it looks when she's flying around the country in her private plane (she instructs her pilot to dump the jet fuel over a red state like Nebraska and promises to buy him a Prius when they land in L.A.).

In her line of work, Ullman has to have a thick skin about how people react to her interpretive humor. She's friendly with Huffington, and she's not concerned about being crossed off the list for any of her famous salon gatherings anytime soon.

Nor is Huffington.

Ullman sent her a batch of screeners, but the Huffington Post publisher has been working round the clock to finish her new book, "Right Is Wrong," and hasn't had a spare moment to watch.

"I love Tracey Ullman, and I love her work," Huffington says. "I'm a huge fan of hers."
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