Moving Pictures
Jan 15, 2009, 04:50AM

Tara: We Salute You

Showtime's new multiple personality disorder-themed comedy/drama is a welcome showcase for Toni Collette. (Grade: B+)

Tara.jpg?ixlib=rails 2.1

Why is winter TV now better than fall TV? Sure, the writers’ strike this year is the main factor, but I'm starting to think cable and broadcast networks will be using winter and spring to show ballsier, juicier television. Some of my favorite shows are premiering now or this spring: Friday Night Lights, The L Word, In Treatment, Greek, Damages, 24, and The Tudors. (PS: Can I just interject here that NBC is crazy to be canceling Lipstick Jungle? It premiered last winter only to end last week with a shoddily constructed finale. Way to kill a keeper).

And now I'm adding The United States of Tara, which premieres this Sunday—my Sundays are filling up way too fast. Judging from the first two episodes, I'd say the show is here to stay.

First, it packs a lot of heat in the credits: executive produced by Spielberg and written and created by Diablo Cody of Juno fame. With that combo, even if the show were mediocre, it'd probably last at least half a season. But it's not mediocre. Tara is further evidence that Showtime may be besting HBO as the destination for innovative and quality television—though HBO's upcoming lineup does sound intriguing.

The show revolves around Tara, played by the fabulous Toni Collette, who has recently gone off her medication for her multiple personalities. Her family must live with her personalities every time stress consumes her. Each episode starts with Tara making a video journal about her concerns and troubles—a conceit, which, much like Sex and the City’s use of direct camera and on-street interviews, is destined for the dumpster. A family drama then ensues and one of Tara's personalities either helps or hurts.

The family is half the fun. Her partner, Aidan—played by Sex and the City’s John Corbett—is a casual, supportive, liberal husband to play foil to Tara's insanity. Also, it's pretty certain he's going to sleep with Tara’s sister. Her daughter, Juno—oops, I mean Kate, played by Brie Larson—is basically Juno with blonde hair. Sarcastic, sexually empowered and alternacool, she is also, inexplicably, a ballerina. She provides the comic relief. But my favorite character is the son, Marshall (Keir Gilchrist). Marshall is serious. He drinks chai, listens to Thelonius Monk and Art Blakey and, a film aficionado, has a poster of The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari. Show me a 14-year-old who knows of Robert Wiene's canonic film and I'll show you a teenager who is certifiably awesome.

Tara’s personalities are pretty damn funny. There’s “Buck,” who is either a man or some kind of transgender, a steely southern hick who calls his son “fag” and “Marsha.” (Marshall bakes muffins. Awesome.) “T” is a 15-year-old girl with an appetite for pot and slutty casual wear who also acts like daughter's best friend. “Alice” is a 1950s housewife with 50s values. The family knows about the personalities and has developed strategies to handle them. While one mystery on the show is why Tara “needs” these personalities, their psychological significance is pretty obvious: each one does what Tara can't. Alice is the supermom who can negotiate suburban politics, T can relate to her daughter, Buck has the courage to beat down the bad guys in Tara’s life. Toni acts her ass off, switching personalities mid-conversation and doing it convincingly. Yes, she's funny. This is a good role for her.

The only question is, as with any new show with a gimmick, will this get old? Who knows, maybe “old” will be one of Tara's personalities.

United States of Tara premieres Sunday, January 18, at 10pm on Showtime.

  • im sorry but this looks awful. are you sure master of impressions frank caliendo isn't involved somehow? i mean talk about a gimmick. you know its going to be bad when every single character can be boiled down into one personality trait. The daughter is Sassy! The son is Nerdy! The mom is Crazy, Crazy, CRAAAZY! I can't wait for when they run out of ideas, and their cousin from alaska visits....and he has multiple personalities too! Hilarity ensues as the cousin's personalities revolve around racial stereotypes from the 1880's. Watch as the main character's nuanced, "southern" personality chases around her nephew "Wang-Chung" (who is desperately trying to balance two buckets of water on a pole throughout the chase) in the front yard with a shovel. Unfortunately the cousin doesn't stick with the test audience focus group that long, and the cousin is killed when "southerner" beats him to death with a large dinosaur bone.

    Responses to this comment
  • Hmmm...well all I've seen is the ad campaign for this show (much like the image for this blog post.) I actually thought it was some sort of one-woman-show adaptation. It's good to hear that there are other real actors. Multiple personalities are gimmicky, but could be fun. But there's no room in my sunday either. Plus I don't have Showtime!

    Responses to this comment
  • i watched the first episode. I'm generally a diablo cody fan, but not when she goes overboard with dialogue. if there's anything this show does, it's that. imagine the first 20 minutes of Juno--"clever" people quipping back and forth like their lines were ... written. by diablo cody. i'm disappointed with the first episode of tara. it could have been good, but it had virtually no story. the arch of juno's plot was what saved that movie. the first episode of tara was nothing more than a lifeless teaser--a taste of only-sorta quirky personalities. i wanted to like it, but i couldn't.

    Responses to this comment
  • Well, I'm no huge Cody fan, but I wouldn't say the show is over-written, but maybe that's just because I actually like film/TV that feels "written." I also don't mind the lack of plot; I think it's intentional. A lot of the "innovative" comedy out there -- Arrested Development, The Office, 30 Rock -- have really loose, poorly formed plots and instead focus on creating hilarious moments. So once again, I'm fine with it.

    Responses to this comment
  • i saw a clip of this on the view and it looked really funny. (also, diablo cody looks like an entirely different person. with all her makeovers and career changes, maybe multiple personalities are a kind of hyperbolized mirror for her to look in.) i hate the idea of multiple personalities being in the media, because i'm pretty sure that multiple personality disorder doesn't really exist except in times when it's in the media and people who are already nuts convince themselves they have it. (I think there was a movie about it once that correlated with a bunch of cases. I can't remember what it was called.) nonetheless, hopefully cody's constant cultural references will make this show funny enough to dissuade any crazy copycats from diagnosing themselves for drama.

    Responses to this comment
  • i also saw the view today (and i'm not embarrassed to say it), and i though she looked kind of bland, at least compared to her usual self. then i read her blog from a few days ago, and was totes stressing about what to wear, and about how people would interpret/judge her appearance. apparently it sucks being famous.

  • I love The View!!! Don't knock it. I'm confident that Cody will make the show interesting, at least for a season.

    Responses to this comment

Register or Login to leave a comment