The United States of Tara: Imperfect, but oddly charming

Posted by Dan February 18th, 2009 at 11:05am In General

taraI’ve started to watch The United States of Tara, the new Diablo Cody-penned series on Showtime starring Toni Collette, and so far the news is good.  Although if I haven’t gotten Showtime to watch Weeds, I’m sure as hell not getting it to watch this show.

The plot of Tara is thus: Tara has multiple personalities. That’s basically it.

She’s got a petulant teen daughter, a young homo son and a confoundingly supportive husband (John Corbett) who seems to take it in stride when she switches personalities. Those personalities are, for the record, a straight male truck driver-type, a  pain in the ass teenage girl (to match the daughter — looks like Diablo likes writing herself into her stories), and a June Cleaver-style housewife.

After seeing a couple of episodes, it seems like a somewhat promising, if lightweight, series given credibility by a convincing and layered (seriously, layered) performance by Toni Collette. She’s really great in the role, making the most hard-to-believe part of the whole show seem natural.

The biggest problem I can see on the show thus far is just a lack of depth.For starters, Tara has a seemingly rock solid marriage, despite the fact that she’s only herself a quarter of the time . Her husband Max (who is a landscaper? Or has some job that involves digging and listening to a typecast Patton Oswalt act ornery?) seems to be completely fine with it for the most part, only seeming slightly disappointed when his wife has taken on the personality of a male hillbilly.  I’m hoping they clear up some of this backstory in short order (note: cracks start to appear in the marriage around episode four).

Aside from that, the kids have small plotlines that are amusing, but really have nothing at stake. The son has an infatuation with a boy at school. The daughter got a job at a local restaurant and has a combative (flirtatious?) relationship with the manager (played by Nate Corddry). Every aspect of the show seems like a b-plot — I’m waiting for something really awful to happen and, if Juno is any indication, I’m thinking there’s a likelihood that it might just amble on permanently.

The show is undeniably the work of Diablo Cody, with the actors reciting her show-offy (and unnaturally complicated) banter like a latter-day, grown-up Dawson’s Creek. Like Juno, sometimes the dialogue is tart and clever. And like Juno, sometimes it’s not so much clever as it is a whole bunch of words crammed into a small space (including a ton of slang that isn’t actually slang). It’s precious, and you have to ignore it at times (cut her some slack!  She was a stripper, you know!).

This all seems rather negative, which isn’t my point. The characters are all reasonably likable and sympathetic — plus there’s enough dialogue that hits the mark that you don’t feel like you’re wasting your time (take the scene where Tara consults with a client who admits to being molested. Trust me, it was funny.) In short, I’d be willing to stick with the show with the hope that it pays off (there are plenty of shows that never got that far. Isn’t that right, Worst Week?).

johncorbettbandThis is the part in the review where I discuss my uncomfortable attraction to John Corbett (I only know him from My Big Fat Greek Wedding and other various one-off roles. I know he was on Sex and the City — but even thinking about that show gives me violent diarrhea). He’s undeniably good-looking — in that broad-shouldered, lantern-jawed way that I like — but I think what makes me anxious about this attraction is that he’s got the textbook good looks with a cozy undertone of blandness. It wounds my credibility as a lovable blogging eccentric. I have no problem admitting to having a thing for Jake Gyllenhaal or obscure musicians, but admitting an attraction to John Corbett is like admitting to being attracted to a buttered slice of Wonder Bread.

Plus, there’s the issue of his musical endeavors. Haven’t heard the music, but judging from Dukes of Hazzard Go To West Hollywood attire and unkempt sideburns, I’m can safely assume that it’s processed cheese.

PS – Rabid fans with Google alerts for John Corbett — please do not leave indignant comments.


  • 1. Kyle  |  February 18th, 2009 at 2:22 pm

    I agree. We’ve watched the first 2 episodes and it’s a lot better than I expected, but not that exciting. And John Corbett will always be remembered by me as the voice of KBHR on Northern Exposure.

  • 2. John Walker  |  February 18th, 2009 at 2:34 pm

    I hope regulars can leave indignant comments : )

    Northern Exposure! Everybody loved him in Northern Exposure. He was Earth’s most loveable man!

  • 3. TV Blog Coalition - Febru&hellip  |  February 24th, 2009 at 3:14 am

    […] Dan finally caught up with the new Showtime series The United States of Tara, and discussed his troubling infatuation with John Corbett. (TiFaux) […]

  • 4. c  |  February 26th, 2009 at 4:12 pm

    Doesn’t his being on Northern Exposure give you at least a bit of geeky eccentric street cred?

  • 5. TV Talk From Fellow TV Ad&hellip  |  February 26th, 2009 at 8:03 pm

    […] Dan finally caught up with the new Showtime series The United States of Tara, and discussed his troubling infatuation with John Corbett. (TiFaux) […]


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