Tracey Ullman's Show
|Tracey Ullman's Show|
|Country of origin||United Kingdom|
|No. of series||1|
|No. of episodes||6 (list of episodes)|
|Running time||30 minutes|
|Original network||BBC One|
|Picture format||16:9 (1080i HDTV)|
|Original release||11 January 2016 – present|
Tracey Ullman's Show is a British sketch comedy television show starring Tracey Ullman. Tracey Ullman's Show premiered on BBC One on 11 January 2016. The programme marks her first project for the broadcaster in over thirty years, and her first original project for British television in twenty-two.
The BBC announced that the programme had been recommissioned for a second series on 5 March 2016.
Premise and format
Each episode offers a glimpse of life in Britain taking place within a 24-hour period for many of its inhabitants (the everyday and the very famous). Locals, tourists, even those smuggling themselves into the country are included. A typical episode is made up of short sketches, with one ongoing storyline that's referred back to throughout. Each episode features an original song penned by Ullman and composer Richard Thomas (Jerry Springer: The Opera).
|“||I want it to be a funny show, an eclectic show representing a day in England, dawn to dusk, showing all the people from this global hub.||”|
|— Tracey Ullman, Daily Express|
In late 2014, whilst promoting the film Into the Woods, Tracey Ullman revealed plans to write something new for television in the following year. "Every five years it comes to me to sort of do what I do again and I throw a load of stuff at the wall, and some of it works and some of it obviously doesn't, but that's the nature of television. I love TV." Her American Showtime series, Tracey Ullman's State of the Union ran for three seasons, concluding in 2010. It was a departure and a return of sorts. Instead of playing just original characters (a staple of Ullman's comedy) the show saw her imitating real people (celebrities, politicians, etc.) something she hadn’t done since her early days at the BBC with Three of a Kind, the show that made her a household name in Great Britain.
In 2014, Ullman was invited BBC One controller Charlotte Moore and head of comedy production Myfanwy Moore to discuss the possibility of working on a new project together for the broadcaster. The trio hit it off and came up with a concept: a multi-camera show in which Ullman plays "a multitude of diverse and distinct characters living in, or visiting, the busy global hub that is the UK."
Whilst visiting, Ullman noted the vast number of women now heading the corporation, a stark contrast to her early days at the BBC. "When I was there years and years ago, it was five men in bowties who talked about the war and The Goons...it was so male dominated." However, some things remained the same: "The important things haven’t changed, though. The BBC still provides an environment that allows you the freedom to create the best shows possible."
Ullman revealed her long-held desire to return to British television in 2015. "I have lived in America for a really long time, but I was never away from England. I was always there, I just didn't work there. I wasn't offered anything there really. So when the BBC called me last year, I was really thrilled. I mean, I wanted to do something England. The last thing I'd done was with Michael Palin. We did [Tracey Ullman: A Class Act] in 1992, I think. We did a show about the class system in Britain and it was just wonderful fun. And from that HBO picked that up and I did [Tracey Takes On]. So it started from a British show."
After hitting it big in the United States, her star began to wane in Britain. Ullman, who likes to study people for creating characters, says that she's enjoyed the anonymity when living in London. "I can observe people on the tube without them recognising me."
On 4 March 2015, a formal announcement was made, confirming the project, with Ullman saying that it was a 'privilege to be doing this,' and "I still feel as inspired to inhabit people as I did when I was six, standing on the windowsill in my mother's bedroom, putting on a show." Shane Allen, controller of comedy commissioning added: "It's about time the Americans gave her back. Tracey has been the missing gem in the British comedy crown for too long. Talent doesn't come much bigger and the BBC audience is in for a huge treat."
A fan of Armando Iannucci, Ullman assembled a writing team which includes Veep scribes, Georgia Pritchett, Kevin Cecil and Andy Riley, with The League of Gentlemen's Jeremy Dyson acting as both series writer and script supervisor.
The show marks the first time in a long time that Ullman has made a series without her producing partner and husband of thirty years, Allan McKeown, who died in 2013. "Emotionally it was great to get out after having worked with my husband for 30 years." The show is, however, produced by the BBC along with McKeown's production company, Allan McKeown Presents (now run by Ullman) "So he is still presenting me..."
The show features a laugh track, something Ullman was hesitant about using. "That's a very BBC thing to do. I hate things like that on a show. But when we played it, it kind of worked. It makes it sound like you're connecting with people. Comedy has gotten a bit cold lately, and neurotic and depressed. This is a nice BBC One family show. It's not too arch or bleak." All laughter is genuine and was captured via live screenings before a studio audience at BBC Radio Theatre.
After her breakthrough award-winning performance at the Royal Court Theatre in the improvised play Four in a Million, the BBC offered Ullman her own show. She was quickly cast in A Kick Up the Eighties and Three of a Kind. becoming the first British woman to be offered her own sketch comedy show. Her performance earned her a BAFTA award in 1984. She became a household name with the British media affectionately dubbing her 'Our Trace.' In 1983, she started a successful (and brief) music career, which extended itself across the pond in the United States. In 1985, she teamed with comedians Dawn French and Jennifer Saunders in the sitcom Girls on Top. Ullman's husband, Allan McKeown, a successful television producer, convinced her to take a gamble on a career in America. After turning down due to creative differences, she teamed with famed television and film producer James L. Brooks who had a deal with the yet-to-be launched Fox network. They created and launched a sketch comedy vehicle The Tracey Ullman Show in 1987. Ullman received critical acclaim and was rewarded with a slew of accolades. The show would go on to win the Fox network's first Emmy award. The Tracey Ullman Show, while American-based, included Ullman's British sensibility with a variety of British characters created for her to play alongside American. Cartoon bumpers, The Simpsons were featured in the show.
Though the British media continued to follow and exploit her success in the United States throughout the latter part of the 1980s, Ullman’s visibility on the small screen in the UK waned until almost 1990 when the BBC finally picked up The Tracey Ullman Show which was winding down its four-year run on Fox. The broadcaster made significant edits to the show, eliminating The Simpsons shorts entirely. Ullman had even attempted to persuade the broadcaster to buy The Simpsons when the characters were spun-off into their own primetime sitcom.
In 1992, Ullman returned to British television with the ITV television comedy special, Tracey Ullman: A Class Act. She was joined by Monty Python alum, Michael Palin. A Class Act took a satirical jab at the British class system. The special proved to be a critical success, garnering the attention of American cable television network, HBO. The network approached Ullman with the idea of doing a special for them, with the caveat that she take on a more American subject. Tracey Ullman Takes On New York was another critical and award-winning success, sparking HBO to offer Ullman her own series. Tracey Takes On... ran for four seasons (1996–1999), raking up numerous accolades and critical praise. It eventually aired on Channel 5 in the UK in 1998.
In the 2000s, Ullman's focus shifted to film, whilst continuing to produce specials for HBO. She launched a fashion internet company and chat show Tracey Ullman's Visible Panty Lines for Oprah Winfrey's Oxygen network in 2001, and in 2008, returned with a new sketch comedy series for Showtime, Tracey Ullman's State of the Union. State of the Union focused primarily on American subjects, however, it also featured Ullman impersonating English celebrities such as Dames Helen Mirren and Judi Dench, JK Rowling, and David Beckham. Despite its potential crossover appeal, Ullman was unable to secure the rights to a television broadcaster in the United Kingdom.
Opening title sequence
The opening title sequence which features both a young Tracey (played by Ruby MacDonald) performing on a bedroom windowsill along with an adult Tracey is meant as a tribute to Ullman's mother who died in a fire at her retirement flat in early 2015 while the series was in its writing phase. When Ullman was six, her father died of a heart attack and her mother was left to raise her and her sister alone with very little money. In the aftermath of their father’s death, Ullman would put on shows in her mother's bedroom on her windowsill in an effort to cheer the family up. "That little scene in the bedroom dancing around that was where everything started for me."
Recurring characters and origins
- Kay: (aka Kay Clark) a pensioner who lives with her overbearing mother. Ullman on Kay: "She's obviously a virgin who's lived with her mom, who's taught by her mom." "There was actually a [Kay]; she used to work at a bank that I banked at when I was, like, 20 years old. When I moved to Los Angeles, I had to call her once, about my balance. She said, 'Hel-lo, Miss Ullman! How's Hollywood? 'I said, 'Have you ever been here, Kay?' She said, 'Oh, no! But my beloved is Joan Crawford!'"
- Sally Preston: a topless feminist MP. She's decided to serve her time in office topless as a political statement. Ullman on Sally: "We were talking about topless protests in Europe and we imagined one had been elected here and they happened to be topless." On the subject on the character's prosthetic breasts, Ullman revealed that production asked if she wanted a molding of her actual breasts. "I thought, 'No, no, no!'" Ullman praised the BBC for agreeing not to pixelate the character's nipples.
- Dominic Hindle: (aka White App Guy) Dominic conducts all his (failed) business designing apps from a cafe. Ullman on Dominic: "He's that kind of middle-aged fading white man who feels disenfranchised and is scared of women." "My daughter worked for somebody very like him and I just wanted to be that character. Nobody knows it's me. People say, 'Why is that guy suddenly in the middle of the show?'" "My director, Dominic Brigestocke said, 'He has lost his way.' He kept saying about this character — 'He has lost his way.'
- Hayley: an overzealous zookeeper.
- Pam Garrity: a self-proclaimed "Northern powerhouse." Everything must be kept in the North of England. She won't go South for anyone or anything. A self-made woman with 38 ½ businesses. Got pregnant at 16, "By that bastard Tony Kelly."
- Jacki: an American tourist visiting England along with her husband Hal (Michael Brandon). They view the country through rose-coloured glasses. Ullman on Jacki and Hal: "There are those old Americans that come every year and they think everything about England is great."
- Steph Moore: runs a modeling agency named Isis - "Not that one!"
- Aromatherapist: an accident prone masseuse.
- Tour Guide: a tour guide who inadvertently reveals just as much about her own history as of the artifact on display.
- Margaret McDonald: an ex-Wimbledon line judge with her own series of internet instructional videos that she creates with her son, Edmund.
- Passing Woman: refuses to help the homeless while passing on the street; reveals phony excuses on note cards.
Celebrity impersonations and reaction
|“||I wanted to do a series of national treasures, which I think we have in England.||”|
|— Tracey Ullman|
The show features Ullman playing an array of real-life people aside from a hearty helping of original characters. Impersonations include Judi Dench, Maggie Smith, and members of the British Royal Family, Camilla Parker-Bowles and Carole Middleton. Ullman received considerable international attention for her portrayal of a German Chancellor Angela Merkel. "I'm fascinated by Angela Merkel, so I wanted to be Angela Merkel. I think they're like Trojan horses, these impersonations. I can dress up like them and make them whatever I want them to be, like putting a personality within them. I didn’t want to just do a straight impersonation. I wanted to try and show their lives. I always imagine that Angela Merkel is someone that has to be with men all the time, in these rooms having meetings... And I thought, 'I wonder what she’s like when she’s with her best friend and they just talk about hair and make-up?'" BBC Director-General Tony Hall payed a visit to the set show and caught Ullman playing Merkel singing jazz and scatting about the state of European affairs. "Tony Hall came down to the set the day I was singing as Merkel. He said: 'Would you please do this on Newsnight with me?'"
Ullman contends that her impersonations are played with great admiration and affection. "I hope they take it in the right spirit!" One person impersonated who's reacted positively to her portrayal as a kleptomaniac Dame who wreaks havoc on an unsuspecting public is actress Judi Dench. Dench's daughter, Fenty Williams posted a clip of Ullman playing her mother on Facebook with the caption, "brilliant, just brilliant." Critics also praised the impersonation, with one writer saying: "Her impersonation of Dench is so spot on that, for a second or two, you can’t be sure she is not the real deal. Her performance easily transcends the make-up thanks to her mastery of posture, gesture and facial control as well as pitch- perfect vocals." While filming on location, on-lookers asked if they were filming a James Bond film after catching Ullman in character. At the 36th London Critics' Circle Film Awards, Judi Dench introduced herself as "Tracey Ullman."
One person Ullman doesn't expect to have the same reaction as Dench is the Duchess of Cornwall, Camilla Parker-Bowles. "For Camilla, I don’t think I’m going to get any Facebook approval!" In the series one, she plays both grandmothers to the youngest heir to the British royal throne, Camilla Parker-Bowles and Carole Middleton. "It occurred to me that Prince George must get taken to different grandmothers, you know? We just imagined [an earthy] Camilla: Do you want to drown a kitten in a barrel or put your hand up a horse's uterus?"
Maggie Smith is portrayed as an actress who prefers to work from home (or not work at all). Smith's portrayal was inspired by an incident that reportedly took place on the set of Downton Abbey. Ullman: "[...] I heard a rumour that one day she was miserable on the show and they said, 'Maggie, what can we do? What can we do to make you more comfortable?' And she went, [in Smith's voice] 'Write me a death scene.'"
- Tracey Ullman
- Zahra Ahmadi
- Emily Atack
- Elizabeth Berrington
- Jamie Demetriou
- Jason Forbes
- Tony Gardner
- Derek Griffiths
- Katherine Jakeways
- Dave Lamb
- Joan Linder
- Lucy Montgomery
- Aaron Neil
- Sue Elliott-Nicholls
- Laurence Rickard
- Samantha Spiro
- Daniel Lawrence Taylor
- Gwen Taylor
- Kim Wall
|First aired||Last aired|
|1||6||11 January 2016||15 February 2016|
|Special||30 December 2016|
|South Korea||ITV Choice|
The first series of Tracey Ullman's Show was released on DVD in the UK on 22 February 2016 by Acorn DVD.
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|Wikiquote has quotations related to: Tracey Ullman's Show|
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