Tracey Takes On...: Wikis


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Tracey Takes On...
Format sketch comedy
Created by Tracey Ullman, Allan McKeown
Starring Tracey Ullman
Seymour Cassel
Alastair Duncan
Adele Givens
Julie Kavner
Hugh Laurie
Tim McInnerny
Michael McKean
George Segal
Michael Tucker
Danny Woodburn
Allen J. Zipper
Country of origin United States
No. of episodes 47 (original episodes)
3 Specials
15 Character comedies
(List of episodes)
Running time 30 minutes
Original channel HBO
Original run January 24, 1996 – March 17, 1999
Related shows Tracey Ullman: A Class Act, Tracey Ullman Takes On New York, Tracey Ullman in the Trailer Tales, Tracey Ullman: Live and Exposed
External links
Official website

Tracey Takes On... is an HBO sketch comedy series created by British-American comedian Tracey Ullman.

In 1993, Ullman returned to television after her hit Fox comedy series, The Tracey Ullman Show, was canceled, with two comedy specials for HBO. Tracey Ullman Takes On New York, and Tracey Ullman: A Class Act, were produced and aired on the network. Both received critical praise and awards. HBO approached Ullman and her producer husband, Allan McKeown, about doing a weekly character series for the network. Ullman agreed, and the Takes On series was born.

Ullman created and portrayed a wide spectrum of exotic characters for the series, including both men and women, young and old. Only her 'Kay' character returned from her earlier FOX series.

Each week, each episode would focus on, or "take on," a certain topic, in which each installment would revolve. Unlike her previous series where characters would appear one week, only to never be seen again, Ullman's new roster of characters for the show would appear repeatedly for the run of the series.

Guest stars included Hugh Laurie, Tobey Maguire, Giovanni Ribisi, Jon Favreau, Carlos Mencia, Dan Futterman, and Danny Woodburn. Writer Jenji Kohan went on to create the hit Showtime series Weeds, writer Allen Zipper went on to write and produce George Lopez and Blind Date, producer Gail Parent wrote the screenplay for Confessions of a Teenage Drama Queen, and director Thomas Schlamme went on to direct hit television shows, including The West Wing.

In 1998, Ullman released the book, Tracey Takes On....


The characters

Ruby Romaine: 72, a Hollywood makeup artist who has seen it all. Worked heavily during Hollywood's heyday. Drinks and smokes heavily. Lives with her shell shocked, Vietnam Veteran son, Buddy, and their pet pig, Oinky.

Fern Rosenthal: 56, a Jewish homemaker, originally from Long Island. Retired to Boca Raton, Florida after her husband, Harry, suffered a heart attack. Harry Rosenthal was the owner of a chain of discount pharmacies.

Janie Pillsworth: 37, originally from England, now a New York fashion magazine editor. Sent to a prestigious British boarding school. Her father sacrificed a kidney to pay tuition. Disowned her parents until an ill-fated family reunion. Lets her mother, who also acts as a nanny, live with her.

Linda Granger: An actress, singer and author. Had a hit 1970s television series, "VIP Lounge", in which she played Vickie Starr. Has a book entitled '"I'm Still Here: The Linda Granger Story", which details her additions to alcohol, surviving cancer and 'personal misfortune.' Had a child, whom she gave up and then adopted, named Marmalade. She is also a recovering sex-addict. Her manager is Candy Casino (Seymour Cassel).

Trevor Ayliss: 43, gay male, from England, an airline steward. Fathered a child for a fellow stewardess. Has a partner named Barry (Michael McKean). A very big fan of Linda Granger.

Kay Clark: 42, originally from England, bank teller, cares for her invalid mother.

Chic: 44, male, New York, Middle-Eastern, cab driver. A self-defined, chick-magnet.

Sydney Kross: 34, ruthless, high-profile Los Angeles attorney modeled on Leslie Abramson.

Rayleen Gibson: 34, Australian, stuntwoman to the stars. Raised by dingos in the outback. Married to a 'little person,' Mitch Gibson (Danny Woodburn). Runs A.A.H., Aged-Animal-Actors-Home, for retired animal actors.

Hope Finch: 19, idealistic college student.

TraceyTakesOn Characters.jpg

Virginia Bugge: 36, a British politician's wife.

Mrs. Noh Nang Ning: 70, owns a donut shop, Yankie-Doodle-Donut. Relates everything to the circle.

Erin McColl: 47, lead singer of the 1970s band, Wisechild. Depends on her manager, Dusty, for guidance.

Her Royal Highness: 57, derives enormous pleasure from making everyone around her as uncomfortable as possible.

Birdie Godsen: 42, right-wing, Christian homemaker. Homeschools her children, and lives in a gated community. Aunt of Chris Warner.

Sheneesha Turner: 34, African-American, airport security guard.

Madam Nadja: 60, Hollywood, 'madam.' Never leaves her bed.

Chris Warner: 32, a lesbian. Her life partner is golf pro Midge Dexter (Julie Kavner).

  • Note, characters that only appeared once have not been listed.


see List of Tracey Takes On episodes

Season One: Romance, Charity, Nostalgia, Royalty, Family, Law, Vanity, Health, Death, Fame
Season Two: Sex, Fantasy, Mothers, Vegas, Secrets, Childhood, Food, 1976, Crime, Movies, Money, Race Relations, Supernatural, Politics, Music
Season Three: Marriage, Hollywood, Smoking, Loss, Agents, Age, Man's Best Friend, Religion, Culture, Sports
Season Four: Dating, Drugs, Scandal, Hair, Lies, Erotica, Books, America, Road Rage, Hype, Obsession, The End of the World

Character origins and development

Ullman was unable to reprise many of the roles she portrayed in, The Tracey Ullman Show, due to copyright. The only character that she had a total hand in creating, was bank teller Kay Clark, who would return in the HBO series.

Characters Linda Granger and Fern Rosenthal were created and first seen in the special, Tracey Ullman Takes On New York. Characters Trevor Ayliss, Janie Pillsworth and Virginia Bugge were created and first seen in, Tracey Ullman: A Class Act.

Character, Erin McColl's manager, Rusty, was originally played by actress, Kate McGregor-Stewart. Erin made her first appearance in "Tracey Takes On... Nostalgia", in season one. Starting with series two, the character again returned, and Mo Gaffney took over the role as manager, now renamed, Dusty. Gaffney would continue to make appearances for two additional seasons.

Ullman sent the episode Royalty, to Princess Diana, hoping she would get a laugh out of the sketch, A Royal Visit, in which Her Royal Highness attends a dinner party. She dishes some scathing remarks about Diana, and royalty in general. Another sketch originally aired in the episode, later cut from the syndicated version due to Diana's death, attorney Sydney Kross makes a special video message to Princess Diana, hoping to handle her divorce settlement. Princess Diana, through her staff, contacted Ullman, letting her know that she had enjoyed it.

Her Royal Highness is said to be a combination of many royals. Princess Anne's voice is supposedly mimicked.

Ullman has admitted that the inspiration for the character, Sydney Kross, was Leslie Abramson, attorney for the defense in the trial of Lyle and Erik Menendez. The character bears an uncanny resemblance to Ambramson, although the voice originates from Ullman's first Hollywood agent who she describes as "crazy."

Some characters were retired for various reasons. The character, Virginia Bugge, was no longer part of the character roster due to the fact that Ullman kept having to replace the character's husband with different actors, first Hugh Laurie, and later Tim McInnerny. The character Mrs. Noh Nang Ning was retired after the third season. No reason was ever revealed, however the make-up for the character was excessive and Ullman felt as though she was being "buried alive" especially in the first season's makeup design for the character. It would be altered during the second season. Ullman fainted more than once on the set due to excessive heat and the heavy character makeup.

Actor George Segal took over the role of Harry Rosenthal in the second season. The original actor, Michael Tucker, reprised his role during the third and fourth seasons.

The character of Chic was based on a real New York City cab driver who once drove writer, Allen Zipper to Laguardia airport. The line "You want to fuck me or you want to fuck my Mercedes" used in the series was an actual line that the driver used when talking about how woman in LA only cared about money. A prosthetic penis filled with bird seed was worn by Tracey when made up as the Chic and air steward Trevor Ayliss. The hair that was used for Chic's body hair, continuously bothered Ullman.

During a 2003 appearance on The View, promoting her latest HBO special, Tracey Ullman in the Trailer Tales, cast member, Joy Behar, told Ullman that she knew who she based character Ruby Romaine on, 'Romaine,' make-up artist to Woody Allen. Ullman appeared in two of Allen films, Bullets Over Broadway, and Small Time Crooks. She was also cast in Everyone Says I Love You, but due to running time her scenes were cut.

However, in 1991, Ullman portrayed the stage mother, Florence Aadland, who wrote the scandalous Hollywood book, The Big Love. Much of Florence's back story is similar to the Ruby Romaine character. In fact, the voice Ullman used to portrayed Aadland, was very similar to the one she used as the Ruby character in Tracey Takes On... Both Florence and Ruby have ties to legendary actor, Errol Flynn.

Ullman contends that Ruby is actually based on all the senior Hollywood make-up artists she's encountered through her career, (who have "Eisenhower" listed on their resumes.)

Ruby Romaine was such a hit with viewers that Ullman decide to try and create an entire series for the character, Tracey Ullman in the Trailer Tales. A pilot was commissioned and aired by HBO, but a full series was never ordered and the pilot became a one-off comedy special.


The Asian-American community found the Asian character, Mrs. Noh Nang Ning, that Ullman portrayed, offensive. Ultimately, HBO supported Ullman, citing that she did not portray the character in a negative light. Tracey later revealed how she received letters from Asian youth, thanking her for her character, appreciating that even though they were rarely represented on television, 'at least they had her.'

Theme song

Starting with the second season, it was decided to film a new opening. In the first season, viewers would only catch a glimpse of Ullman asleep in a bed, with a voiceover being played, and were virtually unaware that Ullman played every character, or for that matter, which characters. In the second season's opening, Tracey would lipsync to her 1983 hit cover song, They Don't Know, not only as herself, but also in character, thus signaling to viewers that she was indeed portraying each character.

The opening titles of season two featuring the Kirsty MacColl song, do not appear on the DVDs. In its place is the season one theme, with only a black background and the episode title, no character lipsynching.

Final episode

Although it was never announced to be the final episode, Tracey Takes On... The End of the World, became the closing show to the series. Storylines included: Kay's mother's death, Chic and Janie Pillsworth sleeping together, Hope deciding to lose her virginity, and Ruby's home being hit by meteor. The last bit featured character, Sydney Cross, being trapped in the space shuttle MIR unable to make contact with NASA. Sydney, was one of the individuals chosen to start a space colony of "super humans".


The series won 8 Emmys, including one in 1997 for Outstanding Music, Comedy and Variety Show, a CableACE award in 1996 for Best Comedy Variety Series, and GLAAD Media Awards for 1998 and 1999.

Got Milk?

In 2000, Ullman was featured in a Got Milk? ad, along with three of her alter-egos from the Takes On... series.

VHS & DVD release


  • Tracey Takes On... Sex, Romance, Fantasy released January 27, 1998
  • Tracey Takes On... Movies, Vanity, Fame released January 27, 1998
  • Tracey Takes On... Fern and Kay released January 26, 1999

In December 2005, Tracey Takes On... officially came to DVD from HBO Home Video. Included in the first season's ten-episode set is a photo gallery, four previously-unseen character comedies, the special Tracey Ullman Takes On New York and an audio commentary on the premiere episode, Romance, from Ullman herself.

In June 2006, the entire second season of the series was released. Extras include a photo gallery, three character comedies (Kay, Hope, and Chris Warner) and commentary by Tracey on Las Vegas.

Seasons 3 & 4 was released on July 14, 2009 in the United States. The set boasted 72 minutes of unseen bonus footage, which resulted in three character comedies (Virgina, Ruby, and Rayleen). However, the DVD set is extremely edited with some episodes wittled down to a mere 3 to 5 minute length.

Seasons 1 - 4 were released on iTunes and Amazon Video-on-Demand service in the United States in 2009.

External links



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