January 16, 2009
United States of Tara
The show was produced and written by Diablo Cody, and as you might expect, the dialogue sometimes veers dangerously into the same self-conscious, hyper-stylized teen-speak dialect that was such a turn-off for the first 15 minutes of Juno. It's used with less intensity, but it still sounds like some bewildering white suburban tween version of Airplane's jive [video].
Anyway, I like the show so far. Toni Collette is incredible to watch as a middle-aged mom who suffers from dissociative identity disorder (aka multiple personality disorder.) Her alter-egos can be caricaturish sometimes, but her shifts from one to another are believable and complete. Alessandra Stanley in the Times calls her alters "one-dimensional", but for the first episode of a show with a complicated premise, I think it makes sense to clearly distinguish the identities and let the audience understand each one immediately, even if that means they get overplayed a little. I think she's great, especially as alter Buck, a redneck man. The rest of the family is good too (especially the two kids) as they incorporate Tara's multiple identities into their daily lives with sweetness and understanding.
My knowledge of the actual mental illness that Tara has is limited, but I do know that an alternate personality is often the result of a serious childhood trauma, and that multiple alters are often the result of systematic childhood abuse. An awful and debilitating sickness, not really a topic to be used as a sitcom joke. We don't learn from the first episode if Tara did suffer some kind of abuse, (though something along those lines is referenced in the Slate review) but hopefully, when the origin of her illness comes up, it won't be glossed over as a wacky quirk. The show seems good enough that they'll handle it OK.
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