Woman-of-a-thousand-faces Tracey Ullman spins out a dozen crazed characters in her HBO series Tracey Takes On...
, ranging from rampaging Jewish matron Fern Rosenthal to gay airline steward Trevor Ayliss to self-conscious/self-deluded college student Hope Finch. Each of ten episodes is dedicated to a different topic--among them Romance, Vanity, Death, and Family--and comprised of monologues, vignettes, and multi-part stories starring Ullman's wildly varying personae. Though comedy abounds, what makes Ullman's work special is her commitment to her characters as fully-rounded human beings; these are not one-joke Saturday Night Live
-style gimmicks. Given the choice between a quick gag or a story turn that will make a character richer and more multi-dimensional, Ullman goes for the latter. The more time you spend with these characters, the more nuanced, vivid, and funny they become. The scenarios are delicious: Linda Granger, over-the-hill sexpot, hires a stalker to get herself some publicity; Fern Rosenthal puts on a fundraiser for a disease, then becomes furious when a cure is found just before the performance; lifestyle magazine editor Janie Pillsworth, who claims her parents are dead so they won't embarrass her, likens the genocide in Bosnia to a fight over a rent-controlled apartment in order to make it understandable to a supermodel. Guest appearances abound, including Cheech Marin, Hugh Laurie (House
), Tobey Maguire (Spiderman
), Michael Palin (Monty Python's Flying Circus
), and Udo Kier (Blade
, Blood for Dracula
, among many, many more. Tracey Takes On...
is a smorgasbord of Ullman's madcap charm. --Bret Fetzer