Tracey Ullman's Show series 2 | TV preview by Steve Bennett © BBC

Tracey Ullman's Show series 2

Note: This review is from 2017

TV preview by Steve Bennett

Received wisdom is that sitcoms only hit their stride in the second series. Tracey Ullman’s Show suggests that might be true of sketch programmes too.

The first run last year was a moderately amusing showcase of Ullman’s impressive comic acting skills, absent from these shores for so long, but often lacked bite.

Well, the teeth have certainly been sharpened for this second run, punchier in a primetime slot than it was at 10.45pm.

A large chunk of this is down to a deliciously savage parody of Rupert Murdoch and Jerry Hall, which is sure to cost her good reviews in certain newspapers. The billionaire media mogul is depicted as so frail he can only consume liquidised food and choking on his Viagra, while his children wait for his demise to claim their inheritance. It’s cruel, but hilarious.

There’s more satirical edge in the sketch involving a dodgy sports doctor acting as an NHS locum, the joke about all the banned substances being boosted into something special by Ullman’s unhinged performance.

An old favourite is here from series one, with recidivist Dame Judi Dench back to her antisocial behaviour unbefitting of a national treasure. Though the mini-drama played out over episode one – which ultimately sees a machiavellian Maggie Smith witheringly disowning her – suggests this gag has now run its course.

Angela Merkel’s back, too, initially in a self-flagellating mood after a brutal round of G8 talks –  but nothing a motivational musical number won't overcome. However, Theresa May is a notable absence from Ullman’s political palette. She needs a third series for no other reason to parody the PM.

Intense, obsessive-compulsive characters are a strength of Ullman’s, evident here in Clare Balding whose TV ubiquity is assigned to her compulsion to do anything to help anyone. Similarly, the Fitbit-wearing office bore will strike a chord with many.

Not everything quite works: Nicola Sturgeon as a Bond-style villain – though with a much smaller special effects budget – seemed a stretch, even if having youthful MP Mhairi Black as her attack dog was a typically sly touch. 

But overall, the strike rate, upped with some hit-and-run quickies, is impressive Tracey Ullman’s Show could be that most elusive of things: a primetime BBC One show that pleases critics as much as audiences.

Tracey Ullman’s Show is on BBC One at 9.30pm tonight.

Review date: 3 Feb 2017
Reviewed by: Steve Bennett

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