DVD & Blu-ray Reviews

Tracey Takes On… Seasons 4 & 5 (2009)

A must for fans of the chamelion-like Tracey Ullman, even though highly edited.

Published on July 24, 2009

Tracey Takes On… Seasons 4 & 5 (2009)

Tracey Takes On… Seasons 4 & 5 (2009)

HBO Comedy Series
Studio: HBO/Eagle Media EM 35114-9 (3 discs) [Release date: July 14, 09]
Video: 4:3 color
Audio: English DD Stereo
Extras: 3 24-min. not-broadcast character episodes
Length: 381 minutes total
Warning: Adult content
Rating: ****

The amazingly versatile British comedienne Tracey Ullman, has been creating hilarious characters of every type (and gender) – making the viewer believe she is that character onscreen – for many, many years now. In fact, it was on her show that the original brief introductions to The Simpsons cartoon series were first exposed to the viewing public. Her Emmy-award-winning series on HBO ran for four years; the first two seasons have been previously available on DVD and now here are both seasons 4 and 5. The idea is that HBO doesn’t censor and Ullman can do or say almost anything as part of her amazing portrayals of these both likeable and often unlikeable characters.

Unfortunately, somebody did some serious censoring of these DVDs.  The original announcement said it was four discs but there are only 3.  Even at that the total time is way short of that required for two seasons’ worth of half hour episodes plus three that were never seen. So the designation of “Complete & Final Seasons” on the box is not exactly…uh…correct. In addition to cutting back the length of many of the character episodes, there is also editing of some of the language – for example, “don’t give a fig” when her lips are actually mouthing …uh…something else. I couldn’t find English captions, which would have been helpful in some of Ullman’s rapid fire or muttered dialog.

Each episode concentrates on a particular subject – sometimes way out in left field but still connected to the particular subject. They include: Loss, Agents, Smoking, Age, Hollywood, Culture, Marriage, Man’s Best Friend, Dating, Books, Hair, Drugs, Lies, Erotica, Road Rage, Obsession and Hype. Depending on your background and constitution, some may stretch your acceptability standards a bit if you’re not a regular HBO viewer.  For example, one of the sketches on the subject of Hair, which would seem quite safe, but actually skirted bad taste – yet dramatized beautifully the aspect of her hotshot Hollywood female attorney of blaming everyone else for her own faults.

Another mouth-dropping aspect of Ullman’s performances is the visual believability of her male characters. They include an Eastern-European taxi driver and a gay airline steward. You have to keep reminding yourself that it is she who is performing all the major characters.  A host of special guests add surprises to the series, including Bob Costas, Cheech Marin, Helen Mirren and Jennifer Jason Leigh.  Even her characters who might strike some as racist or cliched – such as her Chinese doughnut shop proprietor – are so instantly convincing and funny that one can’t be judgmental.  She is is light years beyond Buddy Hackett with the rubber band around his eyes.

– John Sunier




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