NOSTALGIADirector, Thomas Schlamme. Filmed by Takes On Prods. and Witzend Prods. for HBO. Created by Tracey Ullman and Allan McKeown; executive producers, McKeown, Ullman; producers, Kevin A. Berg, Kim Fuller, Jenji Kohan, Molly Newman, Gail Parent, Tony Sheehan; supervising producers, Ian LaFrenais, Dick Clement; coordinating producer, Allen J. Zipper; executive consultant, Jerry Belson; writers, Ullman, Belson, Clement, Fuller, Kohan, LaFrenais, Newman, Parent, Sheehan, Zipper; ROYALTY Director, Simon Curtis. Cast: Duncan, Hugh Laurie, Alfred Molina, Eddie Driscoll, Leon Fermanian, Adilah Barnes, Lisa Sundstedt, Pamela Segall, Marissa Ribisi, Ahmed Ahmed, Nairi , Majed Ibrahim, Judy Geeson. FAMILY Director, Schlamme. Cast: Julie Brown, Joanna Gleason, Michael McKean, Heather DeLoach, Kacie Oyama, Anna Maria Miller, Mabel McKeown, Hunter Benya, Pat Lentz, Michael Bofshever Dattilo, Kristin Hayward, Giovanni Ribisi, Tobey Maguire, Danny Masterson. LAW Director, Curtis. Cast: Joshua Malina, Bruce McGill, Michael Tucker, Danny Woodburn, Anna Berger, Donna W. Scott, Jack Shearer, Ralph Manza, Damon Saleem, Rolando Molina, Chaz Mena, Santos Morales, Herta Ware, Jack Conley, Carlease Burke, Lisa Cloud, Lydell Cheshier; Danny Woodburn, Shelley Malil, John Mese, Bruce Gray, Fred Holliday, Rick Scarry, KennethHughes, Chad Floyd. The versatile Tracey Ullman puts her considerable talents on display in weekly series “Tracey Takes On …,” convincingly portraying everything from a gay male flight attendant to an aged Chinese immigrant. Her decidedly offbeat “takes” on a variety of subjects range from hilariously slapstick to darkly satirical, but only rarely do these sketches really take off. In the four episodes on display in February –“Nostalgia,””Royalty,””Family” and “Law”– some segs are downright tedious, while others are insightful and fresh. In the latter group is most of the “Royalty” episode, consistently the best of the four. Rather than skewer an easy topic — Charles and Diana, for instance — Ullman and her writing staff start with the bittersweet tale of a shy bank-loan officer’s encounter with the scion of the exiled king of Albania (Alfred Molina, utterly smooth and charming), who’s selling used cars in the Valley until he can claim his throne. We’re kept guessing about the king’s sincerity until the very end. Hugh Laurie also shines as Ullman’s husband in a seg about hosting a lunch for one of the royals; he pulls out all the physical comedy stops in this bit. In the “Nostalgia” episode — a vague topic, to be sure — the most successful seg is an AMC-esque cable TV docu (hosted by Bill Harris) about the making of a film that was ruined by a love triangle. Ullman plays both femme leads in the film, both then and now, as well as a makeup woman on the film, creating distinct characters and strong impressions. (Roddy McDowall is amusing in a small part as the film’s publicist.) Less successful are lengthy segments about a retired couple (Ullman, Michael Tucker) whose apartment is used as a staging area for a drug raid in the “Law” episode; and one featuring Russian emigrants whose nostalgia for the old days is so overwhelming that they re-create them in their new home, ignoring the Chivas Regal readily available in the next room. Directors Thomas Schlamme and Simon Curtis keep their star on an even keel, and numerous supporting players make strong contributions. Tech credits are fine. One wonders if there’s anyone Ullman couldn’t portray. However, it would be nice if she had material that was up to her impressive level.
Tracey Takes on ...
HBO, Weds. Feb. 14, 21, 28, 10:30 p.m.
Camera, Nicola Pecorini; editor, Tammis Chandler; production designer, Toby Corbett; costumes, Jane Ruhm; makeup, Ron Berkeley, Kathleen Berkeley; hair, Audree Futterman, Evelyn Rozenfeld; music, Richard Gibbs; casting, Debra Zane. 2 HOURS
Cast: Sandy Baron, Roddy McDowall, Jeff Marcus, Kate McGregor-Stewart, Bill Harris, Alastair Duncan, Jeff Griggs, Leeza Vinnichenko, Sergey Brusilovsky, Tengiz Borisoff, Nehemiah Persoff.
With: Tracey Ullman.