March 30, 2008

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.

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