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Tracey Ullman's State of the Union
A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this TV show.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that, in typical sketch-comedy fashion, the content of this series is somewhat unpredictable from episode to episode. Not every character swears like a sailor, but many do (and the words are all uncensored). The jokes aren't always sexually charged, but when they are, they're no-holds-barred. In short, this isn't a show that's meant for kids, so parents who allow older teens to watch should be vigilant. Ullman, who is white, also occasionally appears in heavy make-up to portray people of color, which could offend some viewers. That said, she's an equal-opportunity offender because she makes fun of just about everyone.
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What's the story?
In TRACEY ULLMAN'S STATE OF THE UNION, chameleonic British actress Tracey Ullman continues her love of pointed parody by targeting the United States and the motley cast of characters who call it home. With the help of accents, outlandish costumes, and elaborate hair and make-up, Ullman impersonates just about anyone -- from real-life celebrities like Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi and imported English soccer star David Beckham to fictional characters like Nebraska housewife Erma Billings, a woman who has restless leg syndrome and a soft spot for Ryan Seacrest. And, of course, she does it all with a healthy dose of cynicism that leaves no topic untouched.
Is it any good?
On one hand, State of the Union is a smartly crafted satire that holds a mirror up to the ridiculousness of a modern age in which celebrity worship is at an all-time high and critical thinking is at an all-time low. But on the other hand, it's essentially a random showcase of outlandish characters that run the risk of becoming tiresome. A few of Ullman's impersonations are spot-on and genuinely hilarious (her Renee Zellweger is laugh-out-loud funny), but others (like an Indian pharmacist who regularly breaks into Bollywood-style song-and-dance routines) are one-dimensional and, frankly, kind of lame.
In terms of content, Ullman seems to be pandering a bit to the United States' political elite. (After all, what percentage of Americans could actually identify left-leaning blogger Arianna Huffington -- one of Ullman's impersonations that gets an awful lot of screen time -- in a police line-up?) Ullman also relies a bit too much on the antics of tabloid darlings like Lindsay Lohan's club-hopping mom, Dina, for cheap laughs. But the topical nature of the show's humor and its potential to stir viewers to think help propel it well above purely mindless fare.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about the current events that inspire Ullman's sketches. Is there any meaning to all the madness? Do you think she has a political agenda? Are there any topics that you think she should have left alone? Why do you think she chose to skewer particular celebrities? Are there any fictional characters she created that you find offensive? Families can also discuss the role of satire in stimulating discussion about otherwise-taboo topics like gay marriage, prescription drug abuse, homelessness, and health care.