I would be a fool if I downplayed Tracey Ullman’s talent. She is a woman with anomalous abilities that most performers couldn’t dream of acquiring. She is an accomplished singer, a chameleon-like comedienne, and a serious actress – all in one unbelievable package with a multitude of awards to verify her capabilities. She’s also quite attractive when the light hits her a certain way, but she has a knack for too often burying that beauty under clever disguises. All these features result in a performer, who can do just …bout anything she’s asked to do. But with all that said, I couldn’t bring myself to like this show. With each vignette (every 30-minute episode carries about three-to-five), I know I should be bursting with laughter, but for some reason, the material doesn’t move me. I do, however, realize a talent like Ullman’s is bound to attract fans aplenty, and to those people, I say this: I can understand your love for shows like Tracey Takes On… – but I cannot share it.
Of course, fans will be pleased to know all of the old favorites are here: the Chinese donut shop owner, the Casanova cab driver, Linda Granger, Hope Finch, Fern Rosenthal, and a large selection of other amazingly performed Tracey Ullman creations. Also, guest stars Alfred Molina, Tobey Maguire, Hugh Laurie, Danny Woodburn, and George Segal, add a degree of welcome familiarity to Ullman’s unorthodox humor. For fans of the show, this set is a must buy. It features all ten episodes of season one, which cover topics ranging from Romance to Nostalgia to Death to Fame. Each episode has clever moments. However, for me, the laughs were consistently absent. But just like some viewers are unable to rally behind Seinfeld (I’m NOT one of them), I cannot force myself to get on board with Tracey Takes On…. However, I’m certain Mrs. Ullman’s overwhelming talents and huge fan base will help her overcome the blow.
The 1:33.1 full-screen appears just as it did on HBO. With constant improvement in cable signals, it’s hard to expect more out of a full-frame show’s DVD release. As for weaknesses, one that is apparent in the playback of episodes and special features is how soft and drab the colors are. It’s a boring visual presentation, to say the least. The menus, however, have that sharp digital look. Too bad that isn’t what you pay for.
The Dolby Digital 2.0 track plays well between dialogue and background noise, adding zest where the video presentation lags. The best aspect of the disc’s audio is Ullman’s vocals on the opening number to each show. The track’s natural volume is quite loud throughout, but there’s strength to the show’s theme song that is missing from the actual episodes.
The bonus material offers several items interesting to fans, such as the acclaimed special that started it all, Tracey Takes On New York. Also, four additional vignettes are featured, where Tracey Takes On: Fern-The Early Years, Fern & Harry, Linda, and Janie. There is a character slide show, which will acquaint new viewers with all of Ullman’s many creations. Lastly, there is an audio commentary by Ullman on the first episode, “Romance.” I’m sure fans would prefer nine additional commentaries for the remaining episodes. Quite frankly, so would I. But what HBO provides is admirable.
While Tracey Takes On… failed to capture my heart, fans will rejoice at its arrival on DVD. The video hasn’t diminished any since the show aired on television, but then, it was never that good. However, the audio picks things up a bit, and the special features offer several additional highlights, though the set is by no means comprehensive. And though HBO tends to overprice all their TV sets, Tracey Takes On… is still a good buy for those with whom the leading star clicks.
Special Features List
- Commentary by Tracey on the first episode
- Tracey Takes On…
- • Fern: The Early Years
- • Fern & Harry
- • Linda
- • Janie
- Tracey Takes On New York
- Meet the Characters: A Slide Show