Tracey Ullman's Show

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Tracey Ullman's Show
Tracey Ullman's Show title card.png
Genre Sketch comedy
Written by Tracey Ullman (devised by)
Starring Tracey Ullman
Composer(s)
Country of origin United Kingdom
Original language(s) English
No. of series 2
No. of episodes 13 (list of episodes)
Production
Executive producer(s)
Producer(s) Caroline Norris
Cinematography
  • Martin Hawkins (2016)
  • Pete Rowe
Editor(s)
  • Nigel Williams (2016)
  • Mark Everson
  • Adam Windmill
Running time 30 minutes
Production company(s)
Distributor DRG (Worldwide)
Release
Original network BBC One
Picture format 16:9 (1080i HDTV)
Audio format Stereo
Original release 11 January 2016 (2016-01-11) – 17 March 2017 (2017-03-17)
Chronology
Followed by Tracey Breaks the News
External links
Website

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.[1] The programme marks her first project for the broadcaster in over thirty years, and her first original project for British television in twenty-two years.[2][3]

The BBC announced that the programme had been recommissioned for a second series on 5 March 2016.[4] Following a "best bits" Christmas special in December 2016,[5] the show's second series premiered on 3 February 2017.[6] It comprises 6 episodes.

On 26 May 2017, the BBC announced that it had ordered a new topical half hour Tracey Ullman special, Tracey Breaks the News for BBC One. The show is inspired by the 2017 United Kingdom general election[7] and aired on 23 June 2017.[8][9] After the success of the 2017 Tracey Breaks the News special, the BBC officially commissioned a series, subsequently replacing the original show.[10]

Premise[edit]

Each episode offers a glimpse of British life, from dusk till dawn, for many of its inhabitants (the everyday and the very famous).[11] Locals, tourists, even those smuggling themselves into the country are included. A typical episode consists of sketches ranging from one to three minutes with one sketch's storyline acting as the spine of the episode. Each show features an original song penned by Ullman and composer Richard Thomas (Jerry Springer: The Opera).[12]

Development[edit]

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."[13] 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.[14] 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."[15]

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."[14] 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."[2]

"I mean, yeah, I've done that eclectic multi-character thing. I'm getting older now, and you begin to think, God, what's funny? What can you say? It's tough. It's bleeding rough out there. [Adopts a deep news anchor voice], "Terrorism, cyber-terrorism threat, breaking news, blackened stool problems, are you allergic to this? Have you got a lawsuit? Did you take this drug in the last six months? You could die! Five things in your refrigerator that could you kill you!" It's like, good God, what can we laugh at? Don't say this, don't say that. But there's always something to laugh at."

— Tracey Ullman in December 2014, on the prospect of doing a new show.[13]

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."[16]

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."[17]

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."[2]

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.[14]

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[18]) "So he is still presenting me..."[14]

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.[19]

Background[edit]

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.[20] 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.[21] Her performance earned her a BAFTA award in 1984.[22] She became a household name with the British media affectionately dubbing her 'Our Trace.'[23] 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.[24] 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.[25] 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.[26][27] 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.[28]

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.[29]

In 1992, Ullman returned to British television with the ITV television comedy special, Tracey Ullman: A Class Act.[30] 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.[31] 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.[32]

In 2009, Ullman was awarded her second BAFTA, this time the Lifetime Achievement Award.[33]

Opening title sequence[edit]

The opening title sequence which features both a young Tracey (played by Ruby MacDonald[34]) 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."[35]

Recurring characters and origins[edit]

The following characters have made more than one on-screen appearance. A typical episode of Tracey Ullman's Show consists of both original characters and celebrity impersonations. Celebrity impersonations are recurring whereas original characters are usually one-offs (created for the sole purpose of a single sketch). However, a selection of original characters do make recurring appearances. They are detailed below:

  • Kay Clark: an OAP 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."[36] "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!'"[37]
  • Passing Woman: refuses to help the homeless while passing on the street; reveals why on a sign or series of cards.
  • Masseuse: accident-prone but gets the job done.
  • Hayley: an overzealous zookeeper.
  • Sally Preston: a topless feminist MP. She's decided to serve her time in office topless as a political statement. Ullman on Sally: "In Europe, there are lots of topless protesters and it just seemed like a topless member of British Parliament would be the next thing. So I just played her like a mom going to work."[38] 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.[39] "[I]t was very tough to wear those prosthetic breasts and talk to the crew. You either had the people who stared at your tits — or the ones who are determined to look you in your eyes. My director, bless him, never ever looked at me below neck on those shooting days."[38]
  • 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."
  • Dominic Hindle: (aka White App Guy) Dominic conducts all his (failed) business designing apps from a cafe. Ullman on Dominic: "Ah, poor Dominic. He's one of the disenfranchised white males who are having a really tough time. We've all seen these once-dominant guys having meetings in cafés, threatening Starbucks that they'll go to the other coffee shop if they're not nice to them. On some level, Dominic kind of breaks my heart."[38] "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?'"[37] "My director, Dominic Brigestocke said, 'He has lost his way.' He kept saying about this character — 'He has lost his way.'[36]
  • Margaret McDonald: an ex-Wimbledon line judge with her own series of internet instructional videos that she creates with her son, Edmund.
  • Tour Guide: a stately homes tour guide.
  • 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."[37]
  • Steph Moore: runs a modeling agency named Isis – "Not that one!"
  • Carla: a British intelligence officer who uses GCHQ resources for personal gain.
  • Barista: A woman who works at a coffee shop and asks what name the customer wants on their cup but usually ends up insulting or offending them.
  • Mabel: an in-office health nut who's always trying a new diet or the latest exercise craze much to the dismay of her co-workers.
  • Regretful Woman: a woman on her deathbed who's filled with regret (not playing enough Candy Crush, not watching reality shows, taking pictures of her lunch and putting them on social media, etc.)
  • Sally Hollister: individual and couple's therapist who can't help but tell her receptionist or patient about a previous patient's session.
  • Inappropriate Woman: a seemingly innocent woman with a knack for wearing inappropriate clothing for conservative occasions (i.e., visiting Buckingham Palace to meet the Queen, a job interview, funeral, etc.).
  • Patricia Hughes: a Christian woman who's constantly discriminated against.
  • Bernice Rubin: a New York City Broadway producer.

Celebrity impersonations and reaction[edit]

The show features Ullman playing an array of real-life people aside from a hearty helping of original characters. Impersonations include Theresa May, Judi Dench, Nicola Sturgeon, Maggie Smith, and members of the British Royal Family, Camilla Parker-Bowles and Carole Middleton. Ullman received considerable international attention for her portrayal of German Chancellor Angela Merkel.[41] "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 paid 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?'"[42] On 23 June 2017, BBC One's The One Show reached out to Angela Merkel's office for a statement regarding Ullman's impersonation of her:

"Thank you very much for your email requesting a statement from Chancellor Merkel for the hilarious Tracey Ullman. I am very sorry, but due to the Chancellor's extremely busy schedule, she's in Brussels right now, and the G20 summit is just around the corner, she will not be able to send the requested statement."[43]

— Office of German Chancellor Angela Merkel

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, Finty Williams, posted a clip of Ullman playing her mother on Facebook with the caption, "brilliant, just brilliant."[44] 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."[45] 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."[46] In April 2017, while speaking to BBC Radio 4's Front Row, Dench commented on Ullman's portrayal, saying that she doted on it, and dubbed Ullman as brilliant. "But I get into trouble now if I go into a shop with a bag over my arm [...] A man came up to me in M&S the other day and said to me, 'I've got my eye on you'."[47]

"People still talk to me about Tracey Ullman's impression 37 years later. That's because people love humour and one of the strongest and greatest ways of getting a message across is to make it funny. So if I was Nicola I would embrace it as folk will remember what made them laugh forever. In the beginning I used to hate it, but my friends and family absolutely adored it. Of course when people start impersonating you then you really know you've made it because they'll only do mainstream people. In the end I was thrilled because it's the best publicity I could ever have had, and I didn't even have to get out of bed for it. It was great fun and really did the right thing for me. Everything that came from it was positive."
— Toyah Willcox[48]

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!"[44] In 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?"[37]

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.'"[49]

In the show's second series, Ullman portrays current Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon as megalomaniac who is after more than just Scottish Independence. Westminster's youngest MP, Mhairi Black assists Sturgeon in the series opener by torturing a captive JK Rowling. On Sturgeon, Ullman says: "I like her a lot and respect her steeliness. [...] I would love her to meet [Donald Trump] and play golf with him and whup his ass. [My co-writer] Jeremy Dyson imagined her as a Bond villain — we filmed for two days in Chislehurst Caves, it was freezing and I was wearing pink, four-inch high heels. But I felt very powerful, and the crew were very much under my command. I think she will like it — she seems to have a good sense of humour."[50] The portrayal was lauded by viewers and critics alike as well as angering some SNP supporters.[51] Singer Toyah Willcox implored Sturgeon to take the sketch in the right spirit. Ullman had impersonated Willcox back in the early 1980s.[48] Sturgeon took to Twitter to comment on the impersonation: "Great to see my fav Scottish designers @TottyRocksLtd featuring on @TraceyUllmanTV last night ;)"[52] Upon seeing her portrayal, Mhairi Black (impersonated by actress Olivia Morgan) was quoted as saying "It was all right. It was quite a bizarre scenario. But I thought it was quite clever and quite witty."[53] In an interview for the Metro newspaper during the 2017 United Kingdom general election, Nicola Sturgeon was asked about Ullman's impersonation of her. "I've not seen all of them but I had to watch some because I've heard so much about it. I thought it was really funny." When asked if she should her in all the "Brexit drama", Sturgeon responded: "I definitely think she should! She's got the outfit and everything!"[54]

Beginning with the show's 2016 Christmas special, "The Best of Tracey Ullman's Show", Ullman plays a workaholic Clare Balding. "I like Clare. She was captain of the volleyball team at school. I watched her present the Olympics and she's incredible. She's really passionate when talking about horses, and she talks really fast... 'Beautiful filly, beautiful filly...' She never stops, you never feel uncomfortable with her, she knows how to talk to everybody. And I got this feeling that she was like, 'Oh, don't worry, I'll work the Christmas holidays, I can do that show, I'll work Boxing Day as well, nothing like the holidays.' She never stops."[50]

In series 2, Ullman portrays a very bitter Germaine Greer. Greer, who in recent years has come under fire for her controversial transgender views,[55] complains about being silenced by the media to anyone who will listen in the series. "I think Germaine Greer has become intellectually homeless, so I play her at a bus stop looking homeless. [In my version] she was this great sex symbol and she likes to talk about s****ing Martin Amis in the 60s, but what's she done recently? She's constantly blaming old age: 'You try being old! It's the biggest sin of all.'"[50]

Rupert Murdoch's daughter Elisabeth Murdoch came up to Ullman and told her that the family approved and liked what she was doing with the show's sketches about their family. "He's always had a good sense of humour, Rupert." said Ullman to WNYC's Leonard Lopate.[56]

Tracey Breaks the News[edit]

On 26 May 2017, the BBC announced that it had ordered a new topical half hour Tracey Ullman special, Tracey Breaks the News for BBC One. The show is inspired by and due to air shortly after the 2017 United Kingdom general election. Impersonations expected are Angela Merkel, Nicola Sturgeon, as well as Ullman's first take on Prime Minister Theresa May and Melania Trump. Like Tracey Ullman's Show, it will feature a mix of famous and everyday people all reacting to the aftermath of the general election along with the anniversary of the Brexit vote. It will include the reaction of not only the UK, but Europeans and Russians. "I'm excited the BBC has asked me to make a show at this time. We've decided to shake it up with a more topical format because things move so fast these days it's like every 10 minutes I'm voting for something. There's never been a better time to be imitating world famous political women, and I admire and thank them all: Angela Merkel, Nicola Sturgeon, and my home girl newbie Theresa May. I can't wait to get stuck in – thanks to the BBC and my brilliant team. It really is a privilege."[7][8]

Cast[edit]

(left to right) Ullman as Judi Dench, herself, Angela Merkel

Episodes[edit]

SeriesEpisodesOriginally aired
First airedLast aired
1611 January 2016 (2016-01-11)15 February 2016 (2016-02-15)
Special25 December 2016 (2016-12-25)
263 February 2017 (2017-02-03)17 March 2017 (2017-03-17)

International syndication[edit]

HBO has picked up the American rights to the show; the first season began airing 28 October 2016.[57] The network began broadcasting the show's second season 20 October 2017.[58]

Country Broadcasters
Afghanistan Afghanistan ITV Choice
Algeria Algeria ITV Choice
Bahrain Bahrain ITV Choice
Canada Canada HBO Canada
Germany Germany NDR, ZDF
South Korea South Korea ITV Choice
Taiwan Taiwan ITV Choice
United Kingdom United Kingdom ITV Choice
United States United States HBO

Home media[edit]

Series Release dates Bonus features
Region 1 Region 2 Region 4
1 22 February 2016 1 February 2017 Photo Gallery[59]

Awards and nominations[edit]

Year Award Category Recipient(s)/Nominee(s) Result Ref(s)
2016 Royal Television Society Awards Make Up Design – Entertainment & Non Drama Vanessa White, Floris Schuller & Neill Gorton Won [60]
2017 British Academy Television Craft Awards Make Up & Hair Design Vanessa White, Floris Schuller, Neill Gorton Nominated [61]
Rockie Awards Music, Performance, Arts & Variety Tracey Ullman's Show Won [62]
69th Primetime Emmy Awards Outstanding Variety Sketch Series Tracey Ullman's Show Nominated [63]
2018 70th Primetime Emmy Awards Outstanding Variety Sketch Series Tracey Ullman's Show Pending [64]
Outstanding Costumes for a Variety, Nonfiction, or Reality Programming Helen Woolfenden, Emma Burnand, Claudia Bassi (for "Episode 1") Pending

References[edit]

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