TVonDVD: United States of Tara: the FIRST season; Great Show; Lacklustre Features!

United States of Tara, S1 DVD

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 four more personalities [slutty teen, T; macho redneck Buck; super Betty Crocker, Alice, and a more primal figure, Gimme] – 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 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 off 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 has been 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 appearance of Gimme, not long after, changes the stakes for everyone involved.

The United States of Tara is not an easy show to watch, but despite its flaws [the children are woefully underdeveloped in the early eps, and it’s a tribute to Gilchrist and Larson that they have any presence at all in the first half of the season], 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?

I wish I could say as many good things about the bonus features for this DVD set, but I cannot: there’s only one commentary [for Abundance by Cody and director Jill Soloway] – and it’s almost utterly pointless [the two talk about all sorts of things – and giggle a lot, but give very little information about the actual episode]; a collection of podcast interviews with Toni Collette, John Corbett, Rosemarie DeWitt and Brie Larson; an On the Set featurette; the first two eps of Californication, Season 2 [?]; the first two eps of The Tudors, Season 3 [???]; a Sitting Down With Diablo Cody featurette [which is all about Cody and mostly not about Tara]; Tara’s Alters [a checklist of the four alters that adds nothing at all to the show]; Plus – Unlock Additional Bonus Features on your PC via Ebridge Technology [Totally beyond me; thanks for making access so easy…].

My big question about the Bonus Features is this: why make it so hard for older folks [and let’s face it, for all its cool factor, UST is for an older – not necessarily computer savvy – audience] to access all the features. I can understand the cross-promotion thing, but episodes of other Showtime programs do not constitute Bonus Features – they are promotional material [essentially longer trailers].

Grade: United States of Tara – A+

Grade: Features – C+

Final Grade: B