Picks and Pans Review: Once Upon a Mattress

updated 12/19/2005 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 12/19/2005 AT 01:00 AM EST

ABC (Dec. 18, 7 p.m. ET)

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Viewers too young to have watched The Carol Burnett Show—geez, it's been off since 1978—might not know what to make of the actress when they watch this family special, a new production of the Broadway musical that made her a star in 1959. Is she real? Even at 72, she has the exaggerated cartoonishness of a creature smuggled out of Pixar. She could be the tall companion to The Incredibles' petite Edna Mode. She seems like a normal enough human in the current ads she's doing for prescription drug plans. But zip her into a costume and put her in a comedy, and her theatrical fierceness is unbolted. It's great camp, with the desperate power of great camp—as if she needed more air than your set allows and wanted to claw her way out.

Mattress is basically just a so-so take on The Princess and the Pea, the joke being that the lady in question, Winnifred the Woebegone, is totally lacking in regal panache. She could probably fall asleep wedged between two peasants traveling coach in a hay wagon. Burnett initially played Winnifred onstage (and twice on TV, the last time in 1972), but now she is an evil queen, Aggravain, who hates the thought of her sheltered prince son falling for this bumpkin (Tracey Ullman). Burnett slinks around in over-the-top Bob Mackie gowns and headdresses that make her look like a Fabergé lizard. She all but flickers her tongue. These stars are really for her.

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