Taking on his DVD player is enough for Judge Gordon Sullivan.
Our review of Tracey Takes On: The Complete First Season, published September 6th, 2006, is also available.
Based on characters created and performed by Tracey Ullman.
Fame is a fickle beast. Millions "ohh" and "ahh" over Britney's latest disaster, but few could recognize the faces responsible for writing and producing the music that made her famous. Too often talented individuals are unjustly ignored, recognized by few even as their work is enjoyed by many. Tina Fey, before her recent Palin-inspired burst of serious fame, seemed a criminally underrated comedic talent. In her case it was a crime that she wasn't recognized by most Americans. In other cases, however, it is not surprising when a comedic genius isn't recognized, and Tracey Ullman is the perfect example. Although many people might know her work from The Tracey Ullman Show or State of the Union, I suspect she can walk around most towns without being recognized because of her tremendous ability to use a combination of makeup and voice acting to disguise herself in comedic roles. Although I'm sure that Ms. Ullman rather enjoys not being mobbed in public, I sincerely hope the ability to lose herself in these comic creations hasn't robbed her of any rewards because Tracey Takes On…The Complete & Final Seasons shows that she is an amazing talent who should always have her own show.
The basic premise of Tracey Takes On… involves the combination of stock characters from Tracey's company with a particularly interesting subject, providing humorous insight into common aspects of life. Each episode begins with an introduction by Ullman, where she shares a relevant anecdote or two about the subject, and the episode then moves on to sketches involving various characters of Ullman's creation. This three-disc set includes the final two seasons of Ullman's show that ran on HBO in the mid-'90s. The episodes include:
Taken together, the shows average a little less than 20 minutes each, and the individuals sketches can run anywhere from a few moments to most of an episode. This freedom allows Ullman cover each topic from multiple angles, keeping the ideas fresh rather than running them into the ground. At this point, it almost goes without saying that each episode is hilarious as well as well as expertly crafted. Her topics are common enough so that most people can relate, but the perspective of her characters keeps even the more tired topics interesting. Also, even if a particular sketch or bit isn't particularly funny, it's interesting enough just to marvel at Ullman's ability to disappear into a character. I'm not taking any method-acting nonsense, but rather her use of both makeup and vocal skills to introduce a completely individual character. Her tradition seems to be more stage comedy than the traditional Saturday Night Live style of sketch comedy (in fact, I was sometimes reminded of Orson Welles' prosthetics to make his characters more outsized).
Fans have had to wait a long time for these final seasons of Tracey Takes On…. The first season came out in 2005, and the second in 2006, so it's appropriate that the last two seasons have come together in one package. On a purely audiovisual level, the release was worth the wait. Each episode looks very good, and since the show was shot on film the set doesn't suffer from the "TV look" that similar shows sometimes display. The audio is a no-frills stereo mix, but it keeps Ullman's changing accents clearly audible. I also can't complain about the extras included on the disc: three different character sketches that each run 24 minutes. Although more input from Ullman would have been nice, I'll not scoff at more of her comedy.
I am less impressed, however, with the packaging of this set. On the front cover, proudly displayed, is a list of "special guests" who have appeared on the show. At the top of the list is Hugh Laurie, who was essentially unknown in America when he appeared on Tracey Takes On…. Now he's a hot commodity, and I can't blame the producers of this set for wanting to cash in on that fame. The only problem is that Laurie appeared in two episodes of the show's first season, not on any of the episodes included here. So, those who see Laurie's name on the front and pick this set up will be disappointed. There are also reports floating around that some of the episodes included on these DVDs are missing some bits here and there, making this far from the Complete that the cover promises as well. I've been unable to verify these complaints myself since I didn't see the show's initial run, but fans with strong memories of the initial airings might be disappointed.
Although I'm not entirely pleased with the way the last two seasons of Tracey Takes On… are being presented on these DVDs, there's no denying that Ullman is an hilarious performer whose work transcends whatever problems this DVD presents. I can solidly recommend a rental to fans of Ullman, sketch comedy, or this show in particular.
Although there seems to be some evidence of foul play on this DVD, Tracey Ullman (in whatever guise) is not guilty.
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