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New series review: Tracey Ullman's State of the Union (Showtime)

Tongue untied: Tracey Ullman tries on Helen Mirren, etc.

Premiering: Sunday, March 30th at 9 p.m. (central) on Showtime
Starring: Tracey Ullman
Produced by: Tracey Ullman, Allan McKeown

Tracey Ullman's been around long enough to have introduced The Simpsons as cartoon snippets on her first American TV series.

That was in April 1987, when The Tracey Ullman Show joined the Fox network's charter lineup of Married . . . with Children, Duet and Mr. President.

Her many-splendored comic talents haven't dulled during the 21 springs since. Instead they're razor-sharp in the British mimic's new and oft-brilliant series for Showtime.

Tracey Ullman's State of the Union, premiering Sunday after Showtime's second season launch of The Tudors, is nothing very different on the face of it. She again offers a wide variety of celebrity sendups and newly created characters. But this is her best overall concept yet. Ullman's weekly snapshots of America -- narrated by actor Peter Strauss -- range hilariously far and wide, including an opening night vignette from Huntsville, TX.

That's where serial death row widow Gretchen Pincus is dictating a memoir, White Widow, while her latest husband awaits a midnight execution. Chainsmoking through crooked, discolored teeth, she's "just not in the mood" to say goodbye to him.

Meanwhile, at the Huntsville lockup, self-aggrandizing TV newswoman Rita Cosby is on the receiving end of some savage satire. Ullman's version has her on hands and knees underneath the execution table.

"We're gonna make news, we're gonna break news," she says before a guard tries to evict her. But the fake Cosby's generous offer of pre-execution sex saves her bacon.

Later, in the nation's capital, reporter Campbell Brown is contentedly bringing Americans their "daily dose of fear."

"Uncontrollable airborne viruses leading to inevitable planetary annihilation. And that, Brian, is a best case scenario," she says in closing. (This riff obviously was completed before Brown left NBC -- and anchor Brian Williams among others --- for a prime-time slot on CNN.)

Ullman also portrays an undocumented Bangladesh woman working three menial jobs in Manhattan; a dutiful Nebraska housewife with "restless leg syndrome"; a Latina morning anchor with an exaggerated way of introducing herself; and a Middle Eastern pharmacist who's being robbed at her workplace.

"In a holdup there is no $10 dollar co-pay," she notes at the end.

Other celebrity sendups Sunday night include Ariana Huffington, Nancy Pelosi, Tony Sirico, David Beckham, Laurie David and Lindsay Lohan's grossly self-indulgent mother, Dina.

Pelosi is seen only in extreme closeup, getting Botox injections that seem to be drawing real blood. Sirico, who became famous as mobster Paulie Walnuts on The Sopranos, is trying to branch out by playing an Alaskan Indian in I'm with This Inuit. But a clip from the film finds him in typical gangster mode, profanely bellowing about global warming and his threatened fishing rights.

Ullman, now 48, has been in this game long before Frank Caliendo began making a splash as John Madden among others. And she's still twice as good and daring at it. State of the Union further embosses Ullman as a true original in what's mostly been a man's world. Bully for her.

Grade: A