Spoilers for the debut of "United States of Tara" coming up get my hair done up in samurai knots...
"Yeah, that is one weird thing." -Max
Because I wound up writing a Diablo Cody interview instead of a traditional review, I haven't really offered up an opinion on "United States of Tara" before now. The short, not-so-insightful version, is that I like it, but also understand why it really irritates some people (other critics, people who streamed the pilot).
Cody's dialogue will likely always be polarizing (though there's nothing in here on the level of the infamous "homeskillet" scene with Rainn Wilson at the start of "Juno"), Tara herself barely figures into the pilot, what we see of her "alters" so far makes them seem very broad, almost caricaturish, and because the family is so largely accepting of her condition, the stakes seem to be too low to sustain a series.
I get all that. But I don't mind.
Now, I'm coming at this having watched four episodes, not one. Some of the above issues are remedied in later episodes: there's more of Tara, there are (some) shadings to the alters, and you realize that the family's life isn't as mellow as John Corbett makes it out to be. But Cody's dialogue is Cody's dialogue (and as you may have noticed from my confusion during the interview, at least one of the other writers, Alexa Junge, is pretty good at mimicking her style), and even as we see more of Tara and learn more about the alters, it's still hard to shake the feeling that this is one long acting exercise for Toni Collette.
But again, I don't mind.
First, I like Cody's dialogue when she dials it back a bit from "honest-to-blog" levels. While all of the characters say clever things, I don't think they say them in the same voice. To me there's a difference in the structure and tone of something like Tara complaining that "I can't seem to micromanage my daughter's vagina" and Kate then telling Max, "I guess I should have let that fertilized egg implant itself in my uterus." They're both about female reproductive organs, and they're both fairly blunt, but I can't necessarily hear one coming out of the other's mouth, and vice versa. So mostly, I found it funny.
Beyond that, while the show is largely plot-less, I don't find the family's acceptance of Tara's condition to be a drawback. If anything, a show where they were still coming to grips with it, or a show where they tried to keep her condition hidden (ala, as my Canadian friend Rob Salem put it, "Bewitched" or "I Dream of Jeannie," or ala Diablo Cody's beloved "Small Wonder"), would get tired quickly. To bring in a comparison of a show I wouldn't have automatically thought of in the same breath as "United States of Tara," NBC's late, lamented "Journeyman" struggled in its early episodes because it had to go through the motions of having its hero, and then his wife, understand and accept that he was traveling back and forth through time. It wasn't until the time-travel became a fact of life -- when the fantastic became treated as the mundane -- that "Journeyman" really began to click, because, geez, how do you get through your day knowing that your husband could vanish into the past at any given moment?
Just because Max takes Tara's condition in the classic laid-back John Corbett fashion (if the dude could put up with Carrie Bradshaw's drama -- twice -- he can sure as heck handle Disassociative Identity Disorder) doesn't mean this life is easy for him. What do you do if your wife's body is coming onto you with the sex drive -- and personality -- of a teenage girl? How do you protect your gay son's feelings if his mother is prone to turning into a homophobic biker? What are the mechanics of life with DID like?
And speaking of which, my only knowledge of the disorder comes from TV and movies (and Grant Morrison's run on "Doom Patrol"), which means I basically know nothing about it. But it does make sense to me that the alters would in some way be stereotypes. Tara calls on them in times of stress, becoming teenaged T when she can't handle her parental responsibility, and Buck when she's feeling protective of her kids, but she hasn't been a teenager in a long time, and she's never been a Vietnam vet, let alone a man. I imagine her mind is filling in a lot of blanks with whatever knowledge Tara has, which is probably pretty scant.
There's also something to be said for holding the audience's hand a little bit with such a weird idea. Tara's family may be used to her, but we aren't, and so the characterizations of the alters are very broad, her physical transformation into them (the way her jaw re-sets itself when she becomes Buck, for instance) unmistakable, but that isn't always going to be the case, based both on what I've seen down the road and what Cody told me.
Anyway, that's me. While I have some issues here and there (some dealing with episodes down the road), for the most part I dug it.
What did everybody else think?