Tracey Ullman is back. “Who?” I hear anyone under the age of 30 ask. Ok, let’s start with a bit of a history lesson. In the beginning (well, 1981) there was “Three of a Kind”, a sketch show staring the aforementioned Ms Ullman, Lenny Henry who went onto be a Knight of the Realm and be mistaken for Ainsley Harriot (really ITV, how did that even happen?) and David Copperfield (not the Dickensian character or the American magician who made huge things like Elephants, the Statue of Liberty and the national debt disappear). This Copperfield was from Doncaster and went on to…hold on….just Googling it now……..nothing on wiki……..oh here we go……after dinner speaking (he charges between £1,250 – £2,000 a gig so I’m in no position to make fun of his current lack of fame).
Our Tracey went on to become a singer for a while; she married TV producer Allan McKeown and they moved to America in 1985. When she was over there she got her own TV series, won 7 Emmys and was responsible for giving the Simpsons their big break. So pretty successful. But most of us forgot about her. Sheena Easton did a similar trick around the same time; went to America, became a huge star and in true British style, we quietly ignored her.
Tracey is back in the UK with a new sketch show. All the pre-publicity was about the prosthetics she underwent to become Dame Judi Dench or Dame Maggie Smith (I’m noticing a trend here) and Angela Merkel (sorry, no forget that. Two Dames a trend does not make. Now if she had done Dame Helen Mirren or Dame Shirley Bassey then I would suspect that she was hinting at something she was after). The prosthetics were good and her vocalisation of the characters was excellent but impressionists live or die by their material. Jon Culshaw and Debra Stephenson are two of the country’s best impressionist and are fantastic on “Dead Ringers” on Radio 4. However their “Impression Show” for BBC 1 was at times embarrassing. Nothing to do with them. Just very unfunny material. The persona Tracey has given Dame Judi and Mrs Merkel are of a national treasure gone bad and a frumpily dressed sex kitten. The two sketches each they featured in were funny, but I’m not sure they would last a series (although now she has pointed out that Nicola Sturgeon is a mini-me of Merkel, I can’t believe I hadn’t spotted it before).
She is at her best with the character acting and she was great in most of the other sketches, even if the writing was a bit patchy. She finished with a good old-fashioned musical number about library closures (it was better than I have just made that sound). It was during this closing number that the penny dropped who she was the mini me of. She really is the new Victoria Wood (who went off to live in Highgate and has become a successful screenwriter and actor, but because she no longer sings songs about being “hit over the bottom with a woman’s weekly” we are quietly ignoring her).
The series was recommissioned by the BBC before the first episode even aired and it will be interesting to see what she produces next week. It took 2 seasons for Catherine Tate to hit her stride and if we can keep Tracey away from the LA sunshine and here in cold, old blighty, she may well do exactly the same thing.