Saturday, March 29, 2008

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
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