united states of tara
By: Aleks Chan

UNITED STATES OF TARA opens to the title character looking somber and peeved. And in the next scene, she’s T, a rowdy, horny, and suggestive teenager who proudly wears her thong outside her jeans isn’t afraid of thrusting her hips in the air while supporting herself on the kitchen counter.

Sometimes she becomes Buck, a gun-slinging, beer-chugging redneck – and a man. And when she needs an extra-feminine touch, she’s Alice, prim-and-proper ’50s mother with perfectly sculpted hair and impeccable baking skills. These personality transitions are done entirely without any explanation other than that we already know that Tara (played brilliantly by Toni Collette) has dissociative identity disorder, or as it was previously known, multiple personality disorder.

But she’s mostly just Tara Gregson, a Kansas mother who paints murals for the wasp set, struggles to figure out her teenage kids (Brie Larson and Keir Gilchrist), and looks to her astoundingly patient husband (John Corbett) to get her through the madness of everyday life.

So a mom – just with multiple personalities, or “alters.” It’s a family dynamic that’s strange, but works. We don’t see family dinners, but living room meetings where Tara takes record of everything an alter has done while she was away (she can’t remember anything any of the alters do while they are manifested), asking them what Alice baked or if Buck bought porn or – while still buzzing – if T did any drugs.

At the face of this is Toni Collete, whom without TARA would never work: while her character changes clothing to signify a personality change, we can see in Collete’s seamless change of expression who she’s become. All of the alters, though blatant clichéd stereotypes, are complete characters in their own, synced together convincingly. A feat worthy of an, ahem, award. And praise John Corbett, who plays Tara’s saintly, understanding husband Max. Their relationship grounds so much of the theatrical behavior of the alters with its organic, knowing conversations, rife with adoration and sarcasm.

While a fun, tender, clever, and sometimes hilarious half-hour, UNITED STATES OF TARA at the same time feels bigger than its pay-cable premise: if you didn’t have this projected metaphor for the roles women have to play, it would actually be better than it is.

Thank creator Diablo Cody for all of this, who in creating a strong family ensemble, also created a premise that seems to only truly exist to draw attention to itself. And like her pregnancy dramedy JUNO, she makes the kids so hipper-than-thou that they seem wittier than they actually should be – like making the pregnant teen call an abortion clinic on a hamburger phone, it sometimes tries a little too hard to prove just how nonchalant it can sound.

The upshot with a Cody production is that it always gets the reactions and behaviors just right: however outlandish Tara’s alter can sometimes be, the way both Tara and her family respond, be it in horror of being embarrassed, frustrated with her conscious disappearances, or enraptured by its peculiarity, everyone behaves (though not always speak) in real, human ways.

Hopefully like in Cody’s JUNO, if we can handle the first 15 minutes worth of stabilizing (or in this case the first four episodes), then we continue on through to the end, charmed by its heart and oversize brain.

UNITED STATES OF TARA premieres Sunday January 18 at 10PM (est) on Showtime

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  • Josh Emerson

    I thought the pilot was really well done. If the show continues to be this good, I can see Emmy and Globe nominations for Toni Collette. She makes the show work so well.

  • Mohammad

    I loved the pilot! I’m really excited to see more.

  • tim w. in tx

    I have loved Toni Collete since “muriel’s wedding”. She rocked as Muriel and Rachael Griffiths was great in that too. Now Toni’s on tv. Can’t wait to see it. I smell Emmy all over this. Go Toni!

  • Corey

    I have been a fan of Toni since I seen her in “Clockwatchers”. This is one show that I will definetly be recording each week. The possiblites for her character arc are endless.

  • summer




    Embarrassingly so.

    Truly…not going to be around long…b/c it blows.

  • Melissa

    I watched this last night and LOVED IT! I love Toni, and she does such an amazing job. I look forward to watching more of this show! Even though that Samurai Knot guy needs to go!

  • Linda B.

    Truth be told the pilot didn’t grab me. I’ll check out a couple more episodes and see if it grows on me. I was really expecting alot and kinda got a meh.

  • Susa

    Apparently Showtime doesn’t want to know the REAL facts about DID, and what a person who has DID struggles with on an hourly basis. I feel insulted to have received an obvious “form email letter” in response to my heartfelt email to Showtime. What I saw in the first episode, is that Mr. Spielberg is using “sex, sex, and more sex”, to sell a series.

    At least with the massive number of anti-Tara emails that Showtime obviously has received from DID sufferers, they have included an “informative” video from Dr. Kluft; however, even in his short documentary, he did not address the magnitude of the horrific childhood sexual abuse that causes Dissociative Identity Disorder. The so called “consultant” that the writer, Diablo Cody is conferring with, had DDNOS, not DID. Apples and oranges… sigh.

    Imagine for a moment, if you can: A new Showtime series called, “The Deformed State of Tara” – a COMEDY about a girl who confronts comedic situations in her every day life revolving around her dealing with her inability to climb stairs, her sexual encounters, and her comedic experiences with people staring at her scarred and deformed face and arms. (As a child, her parents had physically abused her so intensely, that her repeatedly broken bones resulted in a leg amputation, and the repeated burns the parents inflicted on her arms and face resulted in grotesque scarring which made her face appear as almost inhuman.)

    This scenario is NO DIFFERENT than creating a “COMEDY” about a person who suffers from a disorder caused by repeated, early childhood RAPE AND INCEST. One might say that the results of childhood physical abuse are apparent to outsiders, but the results of childhood sexual abuse resulting in Dissociative Identity Disorder are also readily apparent to others in public. Raping young children is NOT comedic.

    Does this life seem like a comedy?