United States of Tara – Season One
Ever since former stripper turned blogger, memoirist, and screenwriter Diablo Cody arrived on the scene with last year’s anointed Indie, Juno, the world has watched and held its breath to see if Ms. Cody really was the next big thing or merely the latest flash in the pan. Not since M Night. Shyamalan has a writer garnered so much buzz so quickly while at the same time dividing people in a way not seen since the 2004 Presidential election. Some found Cody’s zingers, with their odd mix of schmaltz and profanity, a breath of fresh air. Others, many of them writers, many of them men, think she’s the Antichrist.
Based on an idea by Steven Spielberg, this family comedy developed and written by Cody for Showtime centers on the dysfunctional world of the titular Tara, a wife and mother of two who suffers from a condition known as DID (Dissociative Identity Disorder) whereby different personalities manifest themselves at any given moment. Charged with lending both some comic timing and dramatic weight to this domestic saga is Aussie actress Toni Collette who has spent much of her career languishing in the seventh level of Indie Hell waiting for the right role to show off her considerable talents.
The show wastes no time dropping us in at the deep end. Right off the bat we see Tara addressing the camera in what becomes a recurring signature of a video diary designed to help her cope with her disorder, and then without warning she is quite clearly someone else entirely. It’s not until the third episode that we see her receiving any kind of professional help and even then we’re no closer to discovering the root of her problem. We simply learn that she was taking meds and decided to stop. By that time we are well acquainted with Tara and her “alters” as they’re called; There’s T who is a sassy teenager, beer-swilling redneck Buck, and the prim and proper Alice, who looks and acts like she has just wandered off the set of Mad Men.
This might be Collette’s show, but this is Diablo Cody’s world from top to bottom, littered with her trademark pop culture dialogue – “Dude, I’ve been digging around your closet for an hour and I still can’t f*cking get to Narnia.” It’s the same shtick that drove Juno haters up the wall, and while it can sometimes get a little too “listen to this!” it’s much better suited to the half-hour format where the credits usually roll before your eyes start to. There is the familiar preoccupation with teenage girls having sex and daughter Kate is a constant source of anxiety for Tara. The token oh, so precocious teenager role goes to son Marshall, who despite allegedly being fourteen has to suffer through the worst of Cody’s displacement, with dialogue that typically makes him sound like he’s home for the weekend from Andover.
Despite ample self-indulgence on Cody’s part – obscure film directors are still regularly namedropped for no discernible reason, and her insistence that weird kids are just bitchin’ – it’s the adults that are the real rudder of the show. John Corbett deserves all the credit in the world for what’s quite a thankless role as the not really funny, not really cool dad, Max, who serves as the glue keeping the family together while offering an air of quiet devastation over what his marriage has now become. Equally excellent is Rosemarie DeWitt as Tara’s sister Charmaine, who loves and supports her, but remains not entirely unconvinced that Tara could make this all stop at any time if only she would try.
Collette is clearly having a whale of a time, and has, excuse me, personality in spades. The big question is whether Cody really has enough about her to take the show somewhere once mum showing up to daughter’s dance recital looking like Larry the Cable Guy and beating the crap out of daughter’s moronic emo boyfriend is no longer funny. But perhaps like Tim Delaughter’s delightful title theme suggests “I know we’ll be fine, when we learn to love the ride.”
Starring: Toni Collette, John Corbett, Keir Gilchrist, Nathan Corddry, Brie Larson, Rosemarie DeWitt
Created By: Steven Spielberg