TV on DVD: “Tracey Takes On… Seasons 3 & 4”

Written by Television, TV on DVD

UllmanTracey Takes On… Seasons 3 & 4 (2009, Vivendi Entertainment)
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Here’s what I know about Tracey Ullman: She’s a gifted actress who immerses herself into her roles through voice inflections and accents, studied mannerisms, and, when the role calls for it, extensive prosthetic makeup. I would call her one of the most gifted actresses alive. The few times I’ve seen her interviewed or perform on her television series lead me to believe she’s also a very likable person. With all of that talent, it was a great disappointment to sit through the final two seasons of her HBO series, Tracey Takes On…, which have been released on a four-disc DVD collection through Vivendi Entertainment. Not once did I crack a smile, and quite a few times I found myself checking my watch to see how much more was left.

Tracey Takes On… follows a particular format: Each episode begins with Ullman introducing the theme of the show, and then we cut to a series of sketches featuring Ullman in character. Several of the sketches have interesting setups, but if the intention is to make you laugh as well as think, well…I didn’t laugh, and all I could think about was how bored I was. Sorry, Ms. Ullman. Even with guest stars of such notable comedic stature as Billy Connelly, Michael McKean and Hugh Laurie, as well as a notable appearance by the great Helen Mirren, seasons 3 and 4 of Tracey Takes On… never deliver the knockout you expect.

Perhaps the problem is with me and not the series? Perhaps I expected to be bowled over with side-splitting guffaws that would cause my wife to throw a pillow at me. That never happened. Perhaps I was expecting insightful commentary that really made me stop in my tracks and say “Oh my God! I never thought of it that way!” Perhaps I thought there would be numerous exaltations that would cause my wife to throw more pillows at me. That never happened. Instead I sat and watched Ullman inhabit each character in limp sketches that were more fizzle than pizzazz.

I know that Tracey Takes On… won multiple awards and was beloved by members of the television industry. Was this yet another case of an artist being recognized over the content of their work? In my opinion, the answer to that question is definitely yes.

Although I may never check out Tracey Takes On… again, I’m sure I’ll end up checking out her Showtime series, Tracey Ullman’s State of the Union, at some point. Furthermore. I’ll continue to hold out hope that Fox will someday release her late ’80s variety show, The Tracey Ullman Show (you know, the one that launched that little animated series called The Simpsons?). Now that was funny.

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