The United States of Tara: The First Season

The United States of Tara: The First Season
It seems that the problem with prematurely winning a screenwriting Oscar for a mediocre script is that people tend to take pleasure in pointing out the many faults in your subsequent efforts. This is especially the case when said award winner is a sassy tattooed woman, rather than yet another bespectacled man like, say, Akiva Goldsman. While Jennifer's Body wasn't up to much, Diablo Cody's half-hour Showtime series about a matriarch with multiple personality disorder, or DID, is not only hilarious but extremely clever, maintaining a strong female vibe without falling into feminist preaching, remaining relevant for broader audiences. The series opens with Tara (Toni Collette) discovering her daughter Kate's (Brie Larson) prescription for the morning after pill, which inevitably gives her anxiety, triggering a transformation into T, an irreverent, pot-smoking teen girl who is far more equipped to deal with the sexual maturation of a young woman than a panicking mother might be. As we soon learn, this is just one of her personalities, as shortly thereafter sexist redneck male alter ego Buck pops out to chat about erectile dysfunction — and amputee porn — with Tara's husband Max (John Corbett), who is essentially a female fantasy that acts as the ultimate "supportive husband." Her '50s housewife alter ego, Alice, proves helpful as well when her 14-year-old homosexual son, Marshall (Keir Gilchrist), has problems with a teacher at school, after a discussion about literary boners goes awry. While the situations that arise are relatively standard for a family dramedy, aside from the whole multiple personality thing, The United States of Tara reality is nothing of the sort, featuring layered dialogue, sharp characterizations, original twists and consistently amusing quotidian insights. Storylines involving Charmaine's (Rosemarie DeWitt) googly-eyed breasts and a characters nocturnal tendency to urinate on an elderly man during his sleep, only to mock him for incontinence later, are unforgettable. What is fascinating here is the entire role reversal of the series, wherein the physical manifestation of altered personas represents a woman's need to perform culture in a heteronormative world. It also acts as a subtle satire of the typical nuclear family series, with men relegated to unrealistic supporting roles while women take the lead, dictating the natural trajectory. Included with the DVD set is a commentary track with Ms. Cody and writer/producer Jill Soloway, which points out that Tara's season two transformations won't involve costumes, amongst other things. Also included is a brief interview with Cody, along with a supplement on the personalities. No comments are made about the fantastic use of the "C" word in episode four, however. (Paramount)