Union built on a Daily Dose of Comedy.
In the first season of her Showtime original series, Tracey Ullman left no topic unexplored whether it was singing about the side effects of erectile dysfunction medication Bollywood-style as the Indian pharmacist Padma Perkesh to assuming the role of Dame Judi Dench being interviewed about her performance as an Alzheimer’s sufferer in Martin Scorsese’s film “Who the F*** Was I?”
In tackling “the country’s celebrity-obsessed, 24-hour news culture” in this epic yet surprisingly succinct five-episode run of shows clocking in at just under a half hour, Ullman goes in and out of characters and locations like Superman leaping tall buildings in a single bound. Using an instantly recognizable Google map approach, the show is comprised of YouTube-inspired sketches which run anywhere from roughly thirty seconds to three minutes.
While no doubt viewers new to Ullman’s comedic style will first find themselves taken in by her incisive and unflinchingly hilarious takes on celebrities including the “Stay-at-Club” mom Dina Lohan, Campbell Brown’s terrifying “daily dose of fear,” the perpetually injured Galaxy soccer player David Beckham, “chronic narcissistic squint” afflicted actress Renee Zellweger, and “blogs and kisses” scribe Arianna Huffington who sleeps with her laptop, quickly you’ll be just as taken in by the fictitious creations, some of which you can see here.
Although my personal favorite is the Bollywood singing pharmacist Perkesh who warns the customers at her friendly Tennessee drug store of the possible dangerous side effects of each and every drug they’re prescribed, Ullman also manages to touch a nerve. From tear-inducing laughter one moment suddenly we're drawn in by scenes that normally would cause tears, thus getting us to care during some melancholic yet painfully real anecdotes of the absurdity of our contemporary society as a female soldier continually returns from Iraq for a brief visit before shipping back out and an elderly couple are busted returning from Canada with inexpensive prescription medication.
Poking fun at the demands placed on women in the workplace and at home as well as our changing roles, she portrays a seventy-something expectant mother. Then, moving from pathos to irony, she boldly dons black makeup and evolves into the most famous actress from Malawi who comes to America to adopt a child (in reverse Madonna and Angelina Jolie fashion) and takes on a soap opera feel in her “minisodes” about a married woman engaging in a torrid affair with her equally married boss after hours. Going for broader laughs, we encounter Chanel Monticello, an airport security agent who x-rays passengers who don’t have health insurance and a woman who runs “Dignity Village,” an Arizona community for women over the age of thirty-five who never want “to be seen in public again.”
While on the surface some critics may accuse Ullman of having a left-wing agenda, Tracey Ullman’s State of the Union takes equal shots at those on the left as well as the right, hitting extremely hard in the direction of environmental activist Laurie David (ex-wife of Seinfeld creator Larry David) who she plays as egomaniacal and self-righteous as well as others. Yet while David hasn’t commented on the portrayal and Huffington and Brown have expressed their pleasure with Ullman and the show, Union encompasses all views and really paints a fascinatingly relatable if comically exaggerated portrait of where we are as a country.
Having become an American citizen herself as Ullman revealed in a Showtime promo, the British actress seems dead-set on not only making us laugh but also making us think with her witty, razor-sharp satire. Visiting dozens of characters in each episode as narrator Peter Strauss and the music of Dvorak’s Ninth Symphony weaves us from one sketch to the next, it seems custom built for our dwindling attention spans yet at the same time beneficial in assuring maximum hilarity by never overstaying its welcome in one particular situation for more than a few minutes.
And as promised by the Showtime network executive Robert Greenblatt, Ullman portrays ninety percent of the characters of both genders (including an uproarious send-up of David Beckham). Needless to say it comes as great news to fans that the Emmy nominated show has been greenlit for a second season which will run a total of seven episodes in 2009.
In Eagle Rock Entertainment’s release of the complete first season, thirty additional minutes of bonus footage are included such as extra series promos, bloopers, and outtakes, character screen tests (complete with commentary from Ullman as we realize how integral the makeup and wardrobe is to the show) along with deleted scenes.
While there’s no substitute for the episodes themselves, there’s no doubt that devotees and Ullman enthusiasts like myself without premium cable will want to hunt this one down as by jam-packing that many characters and jokes into every single episode, you’ll want to savor the humor and go back to witness your favorite impersonations again and again. Just try to stop yourself before bursting out in song next time you see a customer refilling his Viagra prescription at your local pharmacy if you can.