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Weekend TV: "United States of Tara"

By admin Published: January 17, 2009


My review, which I originally wrote for the Beacon Journal, is after the jump.

It took me four episodes of the new series United States of Tara to decide whether I really wanted to stay with it. And while my decision at that point was to keep going, I can understand if you don't get out of the first episode.

Premiering at 10 p.m. Sunday on Showtime, the series was created by Diablo Cody, who became a sensation with her charming script for the movie Juno.

It stars Toni Collette (Muriel's Wedding, Little Miss Sunshine) as Tara Gregson, a woman dealing with dissociative identity disorder -- what we more commonly think of as multiple personalities.

Because of that condition, Tara may abruptly change into T, an obnoxious teenager; Alice, he model of a 1950s housewife, or the male Buck, who drinks, shoots and is always ready for a fight.

Tara's family -- husband Max (John Corbett), daughter Kate (Brie Larson) and son Marshall (Keir Gilchrist) -- know all about Tara and her ‘‘alters,’’ and for the most part adjust to the changing characters. But the changes can come at awkward moments.

Max's sexual relationship with Tara is repeatedly complicated by the alters, not least because he has promised to be faithful to Tara-as-Tara. In fact, the show in the early going is very often focused on the question of sex with the alters, when it has some more interesting places to go. Both Kate and Marshall have issues in their own lives, and United States of Tara looks at both the problems and benefits of having a parent whose idea of helping can change abruptly.

As for the sex, please note that the series is on Showtime, which allows strong content and language. There's a scene in the first episode where T comes on to Max, and it's so unpleasant and uncomfortable that I turned off the show for some time before resuming.

When I did go back, and even more so when I got past the first episode, the show was more entertaining and the characters engaged me on their own merits, not just because of Tara's challenges.

 Still, United States of Tara is very uneven, clumsily plotted in places and far too crude at times. But Collette is great to watch, and Corbett's understated reactions to Collette's extremes are nicely done.

Besides, I'd like to see what else Cody has in mind for the characters.

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