Sunday, January 25, 2009

United States of Tara, "Aftermath": Time to start loving Orel

Spoilers for episode two of "United States of Tara" coming up just as soon as I buy tickets to the Genesis reunion tour...

"It's like they don't even want me around when I'm me." -Tara

"Aftermath" spends a lot of time introducing Alice, the last of Tara's main alters, but it also spends more time than the pilot did on Tara herself -- how she feels about waking up from one of her blackouts, how the success and popularity of the alters is giving her an inferiority complex towards herself, and how she tries to live a functional life within the confines of her disorder.

The family meeting (or "summit," as Marshall tries to call it) was a nice illustration of the mechanics of the Gregson household, as Tara runs through T's credit card charges, gets more info on the shiner she got as Buck, and tries to fill in all the blanks from her time away. The alters have an advantage on her, as they seem to know everything that goes on while they're dormant, while Tara never does.

Just as she's starting to get a handle on her latest episodes, and attempting to heal the rift with Kate over the morning-after pill, she has that mortifying encounter with the other soccer moms who make it clear how sorry they feel for her, and -- poof! -- Tara's gone, and '50s sitcom housewife Alice is at the controls.

And the thing that has to eat at Tara the most is how necessary the other personalities can be. Alice stands up to the moms when she can't, gets Marshall to admit to his bed-wetting problem, and plays a hilarious mind-game on Marshall's awkwardly-named teacher, Orel Gershinson (played by Tony Hale, without his Buster Bluth hook-hand, alas).

There's a downside, obviously, beyond filling Tara with self-loathing. Alice winds up making things worse with Kate by literally washing her mouth out with soap, but on balance, and unlike the other alters, she has designs on taking over Tara's body full-time. She's not quite the master manipulator she thinks of herself as -- Max, thankfully, sees right through her -- but the idea of one part of Tara conspiring against another part shows another way in which this isn't just a wacky game of dress-up.

Some other thoughts:

• The costume changes make it easy for us to identify the alters, which I suppose is important this early in the process, but it does seem like Tara always has a nice window to go home and get dressed whenever they occur. What happens if her psyche decides Buck needs to come out in a hurry and there's no time to ditch the skirt and heels? Or if there's a direct transition from Buck to Alice?

• Joining Tony Hale in the guest star roster: Patton Oswalt as Max's best friend and landscaping employee Neil, and Nate Corddry as the manager of the restaurant where Kate applies for a job as an escape from the Gregson household. It's a good bunch.

• Midwestern America and suburbia are both easy targets in movies and TV shows (see "American Beauty," for instance), so I'm always wary when a character utters a line like Mr. Gershinson's "We're not in Vermont." But the rest of his scenes, and Alice's psychoanalytical "It's time to start loving Orel" monologue, suggest his objections to Marshall are less about Kansas provincialism than about him trying to work out some unresolved high school issues, and I can live with that.

• Does Marshall having a female sidekick who dresses like Ayn Rand and is similarly pretentious (mocking Gershinson for having gone to a state school) make his own '40s affectations seem more natural (like the two of them decided on it together), or less?

What did everybody else think?


Anonymous said...

a lot worse than the pilot, Im not sure I will stick around. The Alice character was terrible. I can stand to watch characters I dont like, but that character was such a c-word.

Anonymous said...

I watched both of this one and the pilot back-to-back on OnDemand last weekend. Really enjoyed 'em. I'll likely stick around with the show for a bit as I'm becoming less interested in other shows I've watched. I'd point out something specific I really enjoyed, but it's been a week, so I'm having a hard time placing much. Your question about all the wardrobe changes was one I had though. (And basically the exact scenario you set out: Alice coming out when Buck is around, or vice versa.)

Sous Chef Gerard said...

Who suggested this show was a comedy? Aside from Patton Oswalt, I found this viewing to be more depressing and an even bigger regression from the pilot [which I really wasn't a fan of anyway]. I'll stick to my Bret & Jermaine Sundays and probably put this one on the back burner.

lap said...

"That's that then" was a moment I loved, securing my impression that I really love Max.

Although I can completely buy the idea that Marshall would say "I know my literary boners", I don't buy that he'd say it to a teacher.

The question of whether I like the show was sealed by waking up Sunday morning and immediately checking if there was a new episode available on demand.

Unknown said...

I'm thinking that the alters, when they crop up, drop everything and run home and change. When Buck came out, he didn't charge the school and punch Samurai knot kid in the face. He drove home and got the kid later.

I assume when Alice came out at the mall, she did the same. I don't see Tara's sister hanging around with one of the alters.

I'm also going to assume that the alters usually come out directly from Tara. They all seem to be completely able to function in most situations on their own, so I don't really see the need for Buck to come out while Alice in charge. She dealt with the teacher problem just fine - no need for Buck to come out swinging.

Maybe these are all just handy plot devices to keep everything going in the right direction, but I'm willing to work with it.

Alice might have gone too far with the soap in the mouth thing (though the daughter completely deserved it), she did make a photo album for her, and remind her that her mother loves her.

To me, the bigger issue was that if she plans on taking over in the future, why would she enforce Tara's love to her daughter and fill a photo album with pictures of her with her mom?

So far I am loving the show. Lots of LOL moments, including "literary boners" and "loving Orel".

Anonymous said...

It is very difficult for me to get over my anger that they are allowing the daughter to still socialize with someone abusive and doing nothing to really help her understand why this is bad. (I'm not suggesting banning the boy because that will only increase her need to be with him).

I was also furious at Tara's excusing of the unprotected sex. Yes, people are stupid, that doesn't make it ok!

So I have to work hard to keep those feelings in check and allow the show to move on its own pace.

The daughter is a graceless ingrate. The fact is that it took Alice to make her realize if she wants to be on her own she has to at least start taking some responsibility made it well worth it to me. (Her pout on the couch of "I need money" definitely made me want to say "Then you need to get a job")

Parents always talk about teens "just being like that" when I have to say a lot of it really is their own issues they've created.

As for the alter changes, Alice is quite alive and real at the mall before she changes clothes so I don't think that will be an issue. It might make for amusing and interesting plot points in the future for people not to be able to so easily and immediately note who they are talking to.


Brian said...

I'm still reserving judgment. The show is very watchable but I'm not convinced yet. I don't demand strict realism from a TV show or movie but I am having a bit of trouble buying into even the invented reality of the show...the family dynamics are just way too comedy-friendly and laid-back even with the daughter's lashing out. The father is a cipher right now. I do not look forward to Marshall's anachronistic friend. And I wish Toni Collette wasn't going so over-the-top with the alter's possible to do the '50s housewife thing without exaggerating it like that (see January Jones on Mad Men). It just feels way too much like Collette is playing all the alters for comedy, rather than a natural outgrowth of her DID/MPD/whatever.

Unknown said...

Like someone said in an earlier post, the alters weren't born and developed over time. They were created from Tara's mind, with all of her own ideas on them. I'm sure she has preconceived ideas about what the "perfect" housewife, manliest man and most brazen teen look like. These are creations from her mind, and will surely be caricatures of what the real things look like.

Anonymous said...

I agree about the alters being somewhat obvious without the clothes. If you recall from episode one, the Buck transformation happened in the car, and I thought it very effective how he/she pulled up her hair and hardened his/her jaw, and reached for the glasses and cigarettes. (Ok, the last is a cheat - some props fit in a glove department.) I would love to see a longer scene, though, where Toni Collette is forced to use only her physical acting skills to portray an alter change - no costume, no props, no dialogue.