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Showtime’s United States Of Tara: Season 1

August 10, 2010

All I knew about United States Of Tara before I started watching it was that I liked Toni Collette as an actress and that a buddy of mine, with fantastic taste in film and T.V., recommended it to me. I’m not exactly sure what I was expecting, but if it wound up being a drama about the first woman President of The United States I wouldn’t have been surprised.

Five minutes into the pilot episode and I already knew what the title of the show was referencing. After a personal confessional with her digital camcorder about discovering her 15 year old daughter’s morning after pills, the next time we see Tara (Collette), she’s rummaging through her daughter’s closet, wearing a teenager’s clothes, with her jeans so low you can see plenty of her g-string. When her daughter discovers her, she says: “I’ve been searching in your closet for a half hour and I can’t get to fucking Narnia.” It doesn’t take a genius to figure out we’re dealing with multiple personalities here. It’s not long before this teenage version of Tara is identified as “T,” a flirtatious and foul personality that’s more a depiction of a father’s worst nightmare than an actual teenage girl. Either way, she immediately caught my attention and she’s the most entertaining of all of Tara’s “alters,” or any character on the series really. Whenever Tara transitions, it’s always “T” that I hope is getting the air time.

Aside from “T,” we’re introduced to Tara’s two other alters, “Buck” and “Alice.” “Buck” is a motorcycle-riding, beer-swigging, and cigarette-smoking MAN. “He” looks like he’d fit right in at a biker’s bar and I’m surprised I haven’t seen him spitting tobacco juice into a can yet. “Alice” is the series’ version of a 40’s or 50’s housewife… someone who looks like they’d use the words “proper” and “fluff” in their regular vernacular. It’s hard to say which personality has Collette at her acting best. Even though I find “Alice” the most annoying of all the alters, she’s probably also the most challenging to portray. The character is an absurd and exaggerated caricature, as are all the alters, but I think that’s the point. I’m no expert on Multiple Personality Disorder (or Dissociative Identity Disorder as it’s now called), but it seems that Tara’s split personalities are based on her own idea of a specific stereotype. Regardless, the range in personalities only showcases Collette’s talent as an actress and her Emmy win last year makes a lot more sense to me now. She especially shines in the season finale, when she transitions from personality to personality in the same camera shot. It’s a tour-de-force performance.

Dealing with all this is Tara’s immediately family: her husband Max (John Corbett), homosexual son Marshall (Keir Gilchrist), promiscuous daughter Kate (Brie Larson) and her sister Charmaine (Rosemarie Dewitt). A couple things are clear within the first couple of episodes. One, is that Tara’s husband and kids are in complete understanding of her condition, and two, that her sister doesn’t buy it one bit. I spent the first season trying to understand why that could be and all I could come up with is that Max and the kids have known Tara to have DID ever since they’ve known her, while Charmaine grew up with a normal human being who transitioned into the disease later in life, apparently from a traumatic experience at boarding school. This experience is a bit vague in itself… my natural assumption is that boarding school is a place for young girls, but my impression from the show is that it happened in Tara’s late teens.

Tara’s family is a moderately interesting group. While they are mostly understanding of her condition, often referring to her alters by name without so much as blinking at the switch, at other times it seems like they’ve reached their limits; all of them have a breaking point during the first season. Max hasn’t been all that interesting so far and the character isn’t a big deviation from what Corbett has done in the past (think Aidan Shaw on Sex & The City and the husband in My Big Fat Greek Wedding). The antics of Tara’s kids are much more entertaining. If I had a gay son, Marshall is exactly the kind of kid I’d want: smart, funny, sophisticated and nothing close to flamboyant. He seems like someone that could have the future of a David Sedaris, my favorite author. Kate is more of a father’s worst nightmare; she seems an offer short of having sex on camera for money (I’m looking at you Laurence Fishburne). Kate’s taste in men is borderline despicable and after a promising showing in the first couple episodes, her character becomes less and less likable as the season progresses.

Towards the end of the first season, a new personality emerges. It’s an interesting plot twist and again makes me wonder how accurate the show’s depiction of the disorder really is. Do people that actually have DID suddenly develop new personalities after years, maybe decades, of having the same rotation of alters? I don’t know, but either way, it makes for good television and only broadens the range that Toni Collette can display.

The United States Of Tara is a fun, good show. I’m not exactly blown away by anything here aside from Collette’s performance, but I’m interested enough to keep watching. Looking forward to checking out the second season and the possibility of more ridiculous personalities.

Grade: B
Viewings: 1
Replay Value: Worth watching again, but I wouldn’t own it.
Awards: Collette won the 2010 Golden Globe and 2009 Emmy for Best Actress In A Comedy and is nominated for the 2010 Emmy. Aside from nominations for the title sequence, this show has been passed up in the awards department, which goes to show that Collette’s performance is much better than the show actually is.
Nudity?: I can’t remember… but I’d be surprised if “T” doesn’t do something ridiculous at some point.

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