TV show reviews: United States of Tara
The Showtime original series, “United States of Tara” is created and produced by Stephen Spielberg, airs on Sunday nights, and is truly one of the most original series I have watched in a very long time.
Tara is a woman suffering from DID, Dissociative Identity Disorder, formerly known as MPD, or Multiple Personality Disorder. The keyword here is “Identity”, not personality. Something happened to Tara a long time ago, a traumatic event of some kind. According to the storyline, her mind split her identity in order to cope with the event. This split produced three distinct and very different alter egos, or alters. Tara “transitions” into a different alter when something “triggers” her. The “alter” which appears is determined by the “trigger”.
The three alters, “T”, “Alice”, and the male alter, “Buck”, are as different from Tara as night is from day. However, they all serve a purpose.
The alter “T” is an oversexed, rebellious 16 year old girl with an ax to grind. And she often grinds it right into the lap of Tara’s husband, Max.
“Alice” is a caricature of a television mother from the 50’s genre. She cooks, and does all the housework and laundry, and is desperately trying to get pregnant! “Alice” never curses or says a bad word. “Alice” believes she went to college at Radcliffe. “Alice” is what some might call a prude.
“Buck” is the male alter. He watches porn, likes sports and rides a motorcycle. He believes he fought in the Vietnam war. “Buck” loves to drink beer, go to the shooting range and talk about his sexual conquests.
Tara never knows when she will transition from herself to one of the alters and neither does her husband or her children. This is where the story gets interesting as we follow the antics of the alters and their interaction with each of the family members.
Tara and Max have two children. Marshall is 15 and gay. Marshall is probably the least tolerant of Tara’s alters. He feels ripped off, like the alters stole his mother. Right now, he has a crush on a guy from school who’s father is a minister in the local church and very homophobic. Poor Marshall, he’s so cute and kind, not to mention, very smart.
Kate is 17, almost 18. Kate recently got a job at the local restaurant, Barnaby’s and it looks like the general manager has designs making her more than the assistant manager. He’s creepy in a cute sort of way. Watch out, Kate!
Then there is the sister, Charmain. Even though Charmain loves Tara, she deeply resents the alters. Sometimes, it seems like Charmain doesn’t believe the alters are real, and therefore, Tara is faking the DID to get attention. Sibling rivalry on steroids.
The “United States of Tara” is an endearing show and bravely explores the world of mental illness with dignity and respect. There are moments of both extreme sadness and comedy. Excellent writing by Diablo Cody, (Juno) give the characters gritty definition and the acting bring those characters to life. Toni Colette achieves greatness with her portrayal of not only one, but four separate characters. With little more than a change of clothes, she easily gives the audience cues as to who she has “transitioned” into.
Stephen Spielberg opens his heart in creating a show that requires a big heart to produce. Way to go, Mr. Spielberg!