Sunday, February 15, 2009

United States of Tara, "Revolution": Dancing drama queen

Spoilers for tonight's "United States of Tara" coming up just as soon as I enjoy some peppermint schnapps...
"My bitch is fresh." -Max
After last week's fairly dark, alter-minimal episode, "Revolution" gives us a heavy dose of T and an equal dose of comedy, highlighted by John Corbett's very funny delivery of the above line.

But amidst all the wacky hijinx -- including T kicking ass at Dance Dance Revolution (geez, Toni Collette is limber), Marshall participating in a student recreation of the House Committee on Un-American Activities, a raging schnapps party at the Gregson house, and Kate and Marshall (and the writers, no doubt) having fun brainstorming increasingly profane nicknames for the new girlfriend of Kate's ex-boyfriend -- are the usual reminders of what a lousy situation this is for the family, and even a hint that T isn't a Satan-spawn all the time.

When Marshall accuses T of depriving him time with his mother -- "I want my real mother, and only my mother, and none of you freaks!" -- it's a jarring turn compared to the tone of the rest of the episode, but it fits, particularly with this alter. Buck and Alice can be disruptive, but not to the degree that T is, and they have some redeeming caretaker qualities that T hasn't displayed before the end of this episode. She does what she wants, screws (and screws over) who she wants(*), and generally doesn't seem to care how the family feels about her.

(*) Though I had a hard time with everybody at the arcade -- the security guard in particular -- believing T was actually a teenager (Toni Collette's in great shape, but come on) -- I found her barely-foiled attempt to have sex with a boy shed even more light on Max and Tara's sexual problems. If you assume that Buck really did catch crabs from the woman at the bowling alley, and that T is out there trying to get laid (and may sometimes be successful), while Max isn't allowed to sleep with T or Alice... well, you can understand his frustration (and his need for Gentleman's Time). And it gave an added charge to Max's interrogation-by-seduction technique, because he seemed angry and frustrated enough to actually break his vow and sleep with T, just to shut her up.

I thought this "Revolution" also did a much better job with the Nate Corddry character than previous episodes. Here, it's clear that Kate isn't in any way attracted to him, and can see right through his game, but she's going to take advantage of his crush when she desperately needs to get away from her real life.

(As a Barenaked Ladies fan, should I be ashamed that a loser like Gene was listening to what sounded like several cuts from "Barenaked Ladies Are Men"?)

Only a couple of real false notes, one of them relatively minor: Toni Collette's American accent has no idea how to say "Kutcher," and so it comes out as some Canadian/Australian hybrid of "Ashton Kootcher." Also, I have a hard time with the idea that the alters -- all of them reluctant to play along with the family rules, and at least two of them (T and Alice) unhappy with their lack of time in the real world -- are also willing to record video diaries. Seemed like an excuse for a few cheap jokes (like Buck lighting his own farts) as the kids tried to figure out who vandalized Tiffany's condo.

What did everybody else think?


Anonymous said...

I felt the same way about the alters' video diaries. The only thing I can think of is that they were doing it to make fun of her or mess with her. Or they just thought it'd be fun to screw around with a video camera and aren't thinking of them as the same thing as Tara's video diary. Still.

Gene is hitting an interesting note. One hand, he's kind of a wienie and so helplessly into Kate that she's in total control with him. But he's also forward enough to go for her and grown up enough not to be at all intimidated by her crazy-haired abusive ex. His interaction with Charmaine was funny.

And then there's Charmaine! Her role in all this is fascinating. She's completely unwilling to be understanding about Tara's condition. But she goes to great lengths to help deal with the the point of overstepping her bounds. Then Max...sometimes he seems so comfortable with her presence and help. But he also doesn't mind kicking her out when she's not needed anymore. It's like she's trying to take Tara's place as wife and mother and Max allows it to a certain extent but then pushes back. It's creepy. And of course there's the fact that either she was the one who vandalized that woman's wall, or there's some scary alter that defies Tara's instinct about feeling the truth about their actions. AND she's the type of person to be caught up in a pyramid scheme direct sales cult. A lot to work with there.

(My word verification is flogme. Kinky).

Anonymous said...

I wasn't a fan of this episode. Beyond the arcade silliness -- no offense to Toni Collette, but a teenager? Come on -- I thought the scene with Marshall was manipulative. Didn't Tara at least consult her kids before going off her meds? Haven't Marshall and Kate had this argument with Tara and Max already? I guess I just found it hard to believe that this was Marshall's breaking point. The close with T apologizing, combined with the scene at the hotel with Max asking "Tara?", just seemed there to toy with the viewer about the possibility Tara is faking her condition. I don't expect any follow through on what has happened, even though Tara should be devastated to hear about Marshall's outburst, just as she should have been at least disturbed by the fact Alice was shoving soap into her daughter's mouth.

But maybe I'm in the minority. I quite like this show without the D.I.D. stuff -- when it is just about a weakening marriage, a jealous sister, and frustrated teenagers. The alters just seem like sources of artificial tension. I'm still waiting to see if they are allowed do some real damage, like T really sleeping with a teenager or Buck really messing up a Vietnamese immigrant. (Beating up the boyfriend doesn't count, since there seems to have been no consequence to that whatsoever, even though he's a minor. On the other hand, he's also a douchebag.)

Anonymous said...

I find the show wildly uneven in tone and quality, but I like the performances and there are enough good moments in each episode to keep me watching.

I am concerned that the quest for the Big Secret that messed up Tara is going to grow in importance. I'm much more interested in exploring day-to-day life with this particular family than "solving" Tara.

Anonymous said...

I like this show. I like how each episode has a different flare, a different tone. It feels fresh.

Reading up on DID, because I like the show, it seems most cases result from sexual abuse as a child. I wonder if, as another user put it, "The Quest" will lead down this route. They have set up distinctions on how the parents raised the sisters differently.

As Max says tells Charmaine perhaps she did nothing wrong. Perhaps Tara was sent away because of a negative history. Though this all rests upon when she developed her alters. I'm interested to see if they go into each back story. Which alter first revealed itself and when did it?

The relationship between Gene and Kate feels unsure but this plays to Kate's character. She's a funny girl with strong confidence and has weird taste in men. Her last relationship ended sourly but still longs. It's clear she's manipulative as well.

I hope they flesh the dark, depressing side of Tara and her alters out while maintaining the comedy.

They've got a lot to build on which is a strength. I look forward to the journey.

Boricua in Texas said...

By now this show is something I look forward to watching at its regular time, as opposed to DVR'ing it for a later time.

Sure, sometimes there are mistakes or inconsistencies in the execution of the show. But to me there is a lot more good than bad. I find that I am becoming emotionally invested in Tara and her family. I enjoy watching these characters week after week.

Anonymous said...

I seriously think it's the sister who tore up the mural. She was drunk, upset that her crazy attention seeking sister (from her perspective) was getting not only some approval and friends, but from her boss-type more successful mentor.

I got annoyed that Charmaine somehow needed to call mom and dad to stop the party? You're an adult, you're the aunt, YOU stop it. And then the dad being the one to clean up the mess!

I really liked him pressing on T as well. She's a spoiled teen and it's nice to see that at least her husband can stand up to her and prove she's not nearly as ready to take on the world as she likes to think.

And yes, it's VERY strange that Tara went to "boarding school" and Charmaine did not.


Alas said...

I am still wondering what it meant/ who left it there... the "Gimmie" in lipstick under the towel, which caused a change to alter... in the last episode.

Rachel said...

Alan, I'm so glad you noticed the BNL soundtrack. It fit him well -- and I was so happy that they're songs on the same CD, and two tracks in a row, making it real.

I realized somewhere in the middle of this show that I no longer notice the dialogue at all as being anything, really. The characters are what engage me, and the characters are why I watch.

My favorite characters are the teenaged kids. Marshall is a gem, but Kate is just so believable to me -- trying to get out of a shitty situation by taking control, however she can. I feel so much for them, and I honestly care more about them than I do about anyone else on the show.

Anonymous said...

I thought the "Gimme" towel, plus Alice's prayer involving an unnamed alter, pretty strongly pointed to a fourth alter that might be causing some trouble. Tara doesn't seem to know about that alter, suggesting it could have defaced the mural surreptitiously. Whoever did it had a key, and Charmaine didn't.

Anonymous said...

I really hated the Nate Corddry stuff in the earliest episodes, but I'm really starting to appreciate what he's doing. It's actually pretty remarkable: even as Gene becomes more overtly creepy, Corddry manages to make him more interesting and appealing. That's really quite a skill for an actor.

Anonymous said...

I think I can boil it all down...remember when the parents of Tara were on an episode and wanted to take the kids for 6 months? Did you all get a creep factor vibe? And Gimme came out, and we found she had been peeing on the father's bed? I'll spell it out - sexual abuse, early, often, and massive. She marked him, pointed to the culprit. And everyone was his victim. Think of everyone on the show who's screwed up, not just Tara. They're all his victims. Max is the only one who's normal. And the mother (Tara's) is a perfect turn-your-eyes-and-don't-see-it accomplice. It's all heading this way. Even the kids, I think, were fed into this system, steered toward the monster (father) - probably by T - because she could not recognize them, know them and love them unless they were damaged like her. Folks, this started REAL early for poor Tara. I know, twisted it is. One more thing, the creepy Barnabeez guy - can you say predator in the making? Kate is drawn to him because he is a copy of her grandfather, a guy who gets stuck in his affections with girls that are underage. Come on, they're showing this real creep, you have to see it. All Kate is drawn to is freaky creepy loser-types - she's marked by her abuse, which if I am right will come out eventually.

Anonymous said...

australians can say kutcher, and i have never in my life heard an american actor do an australian accent nearly as well as toni collette, or pretty much any decent australian actor does an american one