United States of Tara made quite a splash for Showtime when it premiered. It was [and is] the first television series to be built around a character who suffers from Dissociative Identity Disorder [formerly known as Multiple Personality Disorder]. While the Diablo Cody-created series is quirky fun in its original weekly format, the storytelling seems even stronger when viewed on DVD – and if you thought the show was different during season one, well, it gets really weird in season two!
The unique United States of Tara [Showtime, 10-9C] reaches its first season finale this weekend with an episode appropriately entitled Miracle. It’s an ambitious episode that attempts to both tie together a number plot and character arcs and create a fresh beginning leading into season two.
Since the series’ premiere, we’ve seen the Gillespie family pulled in different directions as Tara [Toni Collette] has slowly become disconnected from her family – husband Max [John Corbett], Daughter Kate [Brie Larson], son Marshall [Keir Gilchrist] and sister Charmaine [Rosemarie DeWitt] – have been subjected to increasingly odd situations, including the appearance of a new alter, Gimme. Gimme is an animalistic creature; pre-verbal and, apparently, governed solely by emotions.
Max has become frustrated by the actions of Buck, T and Alice; Marshall has had his dreams of a relationship with first love, Jason, thwarted by T, and Charmaine has slowly come to realize that the alters are not just Tara pretending to avoid stuff – and is more than a little freaked out by that until Buck becomes her “booby buddy.” Kate finally discovers that her boss is something more than just a creep – something that makes her more appreciative of her mother’s many, shall we say, facets.
Over the last few episodes, we’ve learned of a bad date that Tara went on in boarding school, and, in Miracle, she makes the call and faces the man responsible. The results are not what anyone is expecting. The ep also extols the use of bowling as family therapy – and the final scene of the ep is literally mind-expanding. I think I can guarantee you won’t see it coming.
Miracle was written by series creator Diablo Cody and features the kind of crackling dialogue and character insights for which she has become known. The direction, by Craig Gillespie, is as fractured as Tara’s personality – and that’s a good thing. The ep’s pacing is determined by the characters and Tara’s alters. Over the course of its first season, the characters of United States of Tara have really been developed – especially the kids, who were more a collection of sarcastic dialogue and costumes, but are now recognizable people.
As I mentioned above, one of the most important things about Miracle is that it has to provide a satisfying conclusion to the season while simultaneously setting the stage for season two. Somehow, with everything else it has to accomplish, it does this particularly well. Kudos to Ms Cody and Mr. Gillespie.
Final Grade: A
Tara Gregson [Toni Collette] is a struggling artist/designer with a charming husband, Max [John Corbett] and two kids – studious Marshall [Kier Gilchrist] and uber-brat Kate [Brie Larson]. She also has three more personalities [slutty teen, T; macho redneck Buck, and super Betty Crocker, Alice – and a sister, Charmaine [Rosemarie DeWitt] who thinks she’s faking [“that’s not even a real disease,” she tells Max after an early incident]. Fortunately, Max is a little more open minded than she is – though the exchange does basically set up two schools of thought on DID. The United States of Tara [Showtime, Sundays, 10/9C] is yet another reason that Showtime is sometimes referred to as “the new HBO.”
UST was created by Steven Spielberg and developed by Diablo Cody – which as likely a combination as Juno and Paulie from Cody’s first film, and turns out to be as an unexpectedly good one. It takes a lot of nerve to tackle DID in the manner of UST – the premise is that Tara has gone of her meds with the approval of her family and therapist in the hope that the appearance and behaviour of her alter-egos might lead to the discovery of the events that led her to develop them in the first place. Not the simplest premise, and one that probably be watched closely by mental health professionals and families of DID victims.
From the moment we meet each of Tara’s “alters,” it becomes apparent that Cody is playing for keeps. There moments with each alter that reach almost profound levels of accuracy – and the humor that arises from these situations ranges from dark to light to dark again. In most instances, the humor is used to relieve the impact of the drama, as when Alice takes umbrage with Kate’s attitude and language in the third ep, Aftermath [in which the family attempts to clean up after the damage T and Buck caused in the first two eps.
The United States of Tara is not an easy show to watch, but despite it flaws [the children are woefully underdeveloped and it’s a tribute to Gilchrist and Larson that they have any presence at all], it is smart and refuses to take it easy on its audience. There are moments that are genuinely raw – that will definitely have an impact on you – and moments that leave you rolling with laughter [and you might feel guilty only about half the time].
The United States of Tara will make you think and feel – and isn’t that what the best television should do?
Final Grade: B+