Picks and Pans Review: Tracey Ullman: Live & Exposed

UPDATED 05/16/2005 at 01:00 AM EDT Originally published 05/16/2005 at 01:00 AM EDT

HBO (Sat., May 14, 9:30 p.m. ET)

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It must have seemed like a good idea: Abundantly talented Tracey Ullman goes onstage and presents an autobiography of sorts, showing how experience inspired many comic characters she created for her series and specials.

So why isn't Live & Exposed more entertaining? The theatrical format has a distancing effect on the viewer, and the direction makes it worse. Sometimes Ullman plays roles in costume and makeup; sometimes she doesn't alter her appearance but performs in front of large photos of the fully realized characters. Such bet-hedging betrays a fear that the audience's imagination can't be trusted. A more substantive problem is that Ullman's past isn't always a reliable source of laughs. She could skip her dancing days, and the special wouldn't suffer. You'll be touched and amused by Ullman's memories of doing one-girl shows for her widowed mother, but on the whole this is a letdown.

WEIRD SCIENCE

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