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Featured DVD Review - United States of Tara - Season One

January 3rd, 2010

United States of Tara - Season One - Buy from Amazon

United States of Tara is one of a few new shows to debut on Showtime this past season, which has some of the best shows on TV right now, including Dexter, Weeds, and others. (Not to mention some of the classic shows from the past. It's Garry Shandling's Show is still one of my all time favorites.) Additionally, the TV series is produced by Steven Spielberg, written by Diablo Cody, and stars Toni Collette who earned an Emmy win for her performance, and recently picked up a Golden Globe nomination as well. This adds up to rather high expectations, but can the show live up to them?

Toni Collette stars as Tara, a typical woman who is married to Max and has two kids, Kate and Marshall. She lives a rather average suburban life, except she has dissociative identity disorder (which used to be known as Split or Multiple Personality). She spends a lot of her time as Tara, but when the stresses of the day get too much for her, she can transition into T, a 15-year old teenage girl, who is there to blow off steam; Alice, the "perfect" 1950s housewife, who is needed when her commitments overwhelm her; Buck, a gun-loving man, who is needed when the family needs protecting; and at least one more, with possible more to come next season. Sometime before the series starts, she decided to go off her medication, because as we later learn, the side effects were too much for her to take. (It made her personality more stable, but in a way that made her a lot less human. She was more automaton than person.) However, the re-emergence of her "Alters" has caused a lot of grief with her family, especially her daughter, Kate, who has begun to act out, and they tend to disrupt the lives of all those around her. Throughout the first season we learn more and more about her past and what may or may not have caused her split personality, which builds to the finale.

This show features some terrific performances, and not just by Toni Collette. John Corbett, Brie Larson, and Keir Gilchrist are also excellent. There are also a number of fantastic recurring / guest parts, notably Patton Oswalt, who really should be working more. The writing is also excellent, particularly the dialogue. I think Diablo Cody helped set the tone for in the first three episodes, which she wrote herself (she also wrote a couple of the later episodes as well) and the other writers have continued with that style.

Since I liked all of the parts, it's a little strange that I'm less than enthusiastic about the end result. There are some minor problems here and there. For instance, Max is just a little too calm about all of this. (They talk about Tara's old medication causing her to not feel any emotions, and I kept thinking, "What medication is Max on?") However, the main issue I have is with the "split personality," which feels very much like a gimmick, sadly. Now, I'm not an expert is psychology, but I'm 90% sure dissociative identity disorder is not the way its portrayed in the show. (Actually, I'm quite sure dissociative identity disorder doesn't exist and is the result of psychologists dealing with overly subjective patients. I'm not alone in feeling this way, as the diagnosis is quite controversial in the field.) It is at its worst with the way Tara dresses up in different outfits for each personality, which made it seem a little too "TV sitcom" and not real enough to draw me in.

Overall, it is worth checking out, but not among the best Showtime has to offer.

Extras on the two disc set start with an audio commentary track on one episode, Abundance, with Diablo Cody and Jill Soloway, who wrote that episode. There is a good balance between information and entertainment here and it is worth checking out. Disc two has an interview with Diablo Cody, but it's only two-and-a-half minutes long, so you don't get a lot of information. Tara's Alters is a series of short segments on each of the split personalities. Each are only 1 to 2 minutes long, which means it's not very in-depth, but there are some pieces of interesting information here. There is a photo gallery, images, and a "bonus" episode of The Tudors. Additionally, you can download some additional features, which would make sense if this was on Blu-ray and you could do it from your machine, but this is DVD, so you have to pop it into your PC, which is a pain.

The Verdict

United States of Tara has a lot of amazing parts, but the sum total is merely good, not great. I can recommend renting Season One, but until I know if season two improves or gets weaker, I'm not sure if buying is necessary.

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