Inimitable comedienne Tracey Ullman turns up in a first-class showcase of her versatility and classy talents. Three shrewdly interlocking playlets shot through with humor and quality writing and a select cast directed impeccably by Don Scardino show what top-flight talent can do.
“The Johnsons” catches a Wisconsin couple — Ullman and Dan Castellaneta — as tourists in Manhattan, with Ullman exuberant and outgoing, Castellaneta worried sick about the city’s dangers. “Family Reunion” features Ullman, bitchy editor of a smart New York magazine, pretending her middle-class British parents (Ullman, Michael Williams) are dead. Actually they are domestics for a rock star back in England. A jealous assistant springs them on her in N.Y. during a TV interview; Ullman’s savvy editor knows exactly what to do.
Most intricate and effective of the three sketches, “The Rosenthal Affair,” casts Ullman as an outrageous Long Island Jewish mother whose daughter is marrying a young Minnesota Jew whose conservative parents (Blythe Danner, John Cunningham) unnerve her. Already insecure and flamboyant, she unrestrainedly loathes the refined parents of the groom, particularly the wife, whom she thinks is trying to steal her daughter away from her.
Ullman lends depth and insight to all her characterizations, but her raging, jealous mother of the bride zings home with extraordinary perception. And heart.
Ullman and the first-class cast surrounding her, the superior writing and direction give TV comedy a much-needed lift.