TV on DVD: Tracey Takes on... (The Complete Final Seasons)

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Since Kay Clark-- the British bank teller who moved to California in order to become the caretaker of her invalid mother-- was acknowledged legally and due to copyright reasons as the only character wholeheartedly created by the show's star, it's Kay who made the lonely leap from FOX Network's The Tracey Ullman Show to HBO's eight time Emmy award winning smash Tracey Takes on...for its four season run.

Rounding out the rest of the series, the talented, diverse comical actress, singer, dancer, and chameleon-like force of nature that is Tracey Ullman-- along with her gifted writers-- crafted a roster comprised of eighteen primary and countless secondary main characters and this time without the limits of censorship and free from corporate sponsors, they relished in the freedom to go to the extreme in some truly daring sketches.

While E.R. was widely praised as the first narrative and solidly structured show that successfully juggled several plotlines in any given episode to make it suitable for those of the channel changer generation-- Tracey Takes On... essentially worked the same way.

However, unlike Saturday Night Live which kind of stayed current and then dumped a skit to run with whatever was next, Ullman revisited not just frumpy caregiver Kay Clark-- who teams up with Cheech Marin to experiment with marijuana to try and give her mom some pain relief only to test it out herself first-- but other characters' storylines that didn't always end with a comedic zing but an internal chuckle, picking up the narrative thread she dropped later on in the strangest of ways when her many characters found their lives colliding. Sometimes the humor is abandoned completely in favor of pathos or melancholy or getting a point across that she'll use later (for the sake of wit) down the road as the shows meander (mostly) in and around the two coasts of the United States.

Often inspired by those she's come into contact with working in La La Land like one of her early Hollywood agents blended together with the Menendez Brothers lawyer for the downright hideous character of attorney Sydney Kross who can bully death row inmates into doing what she wants or a real life cab driver named Chic-- Tracey Takes on... is loosely strung together by a given topic from "Loss," to "Agents" to "Dating," which she manages to skewer in the most intriguing of ways.

She does so by first opening with an interview styled confessional anecdote as Tracey Ullman herself-- in person and out of makeup, wigs, and fake teeth-- shares a story about each one before she tackles the subjects and all the possible meanings they could incorporate which definitely goes beyond what most of us would probably first come up with in an average game of Password, Scattergories or Taboo.

Although, watching this show just months after viewing the much more recent and vastly superior first season of Showtime's Tracey Ullman's State of the Union Season One (also released by Eagle Rock Entertainment) makes Tracey Takes on... seem noticeably dated and also far less vital than the comedy from State of the Union since in between her impressions of Dina Lohan and Helen Mirren on the latter, she managed to address some of the issues facing our globe but this aside, Tracey Takes on... is still impressive.

While unfortunately, I do have to admit that more than half of her characters were unlikable in this particular show and her impression of the Asian-American character
Mrs. Noh Nang Ning struck me on the same cringe-worthy level as Mickey Rooney's in Breakfast at Tiffany's--and I do wonder if she would've made this decision today-- it's still a solid work of entertainment.

And this is mostly due to the extraordinary gifts of our leading lady for not just her incredible versatility but also the way she's able to move right into the demands of any given skit from portraying an Australian stunt woman whose dwarf husband had died, taking part in a rigorous Fosse like dance routine, singing her heart out, and then reenacting the finale of Titanic with Psych's Corbin Bernsen.

Although when it comes to Ullman, I'm still going to tune into her particular State of the Union far more often than Tracey Takes on... despite some great guest work and funny turns by a game Jennifer Jason Leigh and Helen Mirren just to name two-- it's enjoyable for fans of the comical actress who (much like this reviewer) have also relished her turns in the movies of Woody Allen and her willingness to take risks in offbeat projects like Nancy Savoca's Household Saints and Lawrence Kasdan's masterful I Love You to Death as well.

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