Tracey Ullman has been off British screens for about the same amount of time I’ve been on the planet. I can attest, a lot has changed since she left for the States in the mid-Eighties, and that’s a theme that permeates her triumphant return. Tracey Ullman’s Show is both a celebrity impression programme and a comment on Cameron’s Britain in 2016, for better or worse.
Pitch-perfect impressions are a tricky business. The look and the characterisation must be just so; to nail the voice, mannerisms and identify those tics that we don’t realise are funny until someone shows us they are. For magic, you also need a razor-sharp twist on a character that's both surprising but moreish, televisually speaking.
Ullman succeeded in all of the above in this first episode. We got kleptomaniac Dame Judi Dench pilfering wine from the supermarket; a conceited, Anglophobic Angela Merkel as a self-proclaimed sex-bomb convinced that her hair do and suit jackets drive George Osborne wild and Maggie Smith auditioning for Star Wars. Amid the A-listers were some non-famous characters, most memorably Karen, a recently-released drugs mule readjusting to life after 28 years in a Thai prison – and struggling to come to terms with the digital age and the closure of Woolies, Blockbusters and Our Price. “Don’t worry Karen, Currys is still here,” said her long-suffering mother.
Ullman, a lifelong Labour supporter also got her own politics in, not least with a musical ode to public libraries closed due to “Tory cuts”. Her ant-loving zoo keeper character didn’t add much to the party but the duds were few and far between. In the pipeline are some swipes at the royal family, and if the pictures I’ve seen of Ullman as a tweeded-up Camilla Parker Bowles and Carole Middleton are anything to go by, we’re in for a treat.
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