Showtime’s inexplicably green-lighted new half-hour series, The United States Of Tara, premiered on TV last night after several weeks of online availability and massive hype. By the time the first show aired, everyone I know had seen it online and had a different angle from which to gleefully diss this show about a “normal” suburban family with a secret (can we please stop making these?). First, a summary:
Steven Spielberg called Diablo Cody with his idea for a show about a suburban mom with multiple personalities. Diablo Cody created and wrote the show. Showtime bought it and cast very talented people in the roles of Tara (Toni Collette), her JK livin’ husband (John Corbett), and Tara’s sister (Rosemarie DeWitt). Then, despite all these fine actors and Showtime executives and Spielberg and Cody and a crew being involved, the pilot episode is an unintentionally funny, totally ridiculous, 20-groans-per-second, incoherent mess, the merciful conclusion of which inspires no emotion other than ANGER at how stupid these people must think their audience is to put this crap on TV and expect us to buy it.
Here are just a few of the many things wrong with The United States Of Tara:
1. Dissociative Identity Disorder (or at least the multiple personality kind portrayed here), despite being Law And Order’s bread and butter in the early ’90s, does not exist. But don’t worry! In the first ten minutes of the pilot, Tara’s sister utters the words “It’s not even a real disease.” Contrary to Screenwriting For Dummies or whatever, this one line does not excuse the show’s entire premise.
2. Tara’s “Alters” (besides “normal generic mom”) are:
“T”: A slutty obnoxious teenager who is more slutty and obnoxious than any teenager in history. (She fakes an orgasm in front of her kids, for example.) “T” is relegated to the shed out back, where she throws tantrums so loud that her son cranks Thelonious Monk to drown them out. I wish I was kidding.
“Buck”: Someone’s idea of a rude Southern redneck man. He calls the son a “faggot,” beats up Tara’s daughter’s abusive boyfriend, and grabs her friends asses. (In a preview of the upcoming season, “Buck” lights “his” farts! For real.)
“Alice”: A perfect 50’s-style housewife (who was not in the pilot, but is coming up.)
So, basically, your first three generic guesses when told the premise of this show. No reason to stretch or anything! it’s not HBO, it’s Showtime. Also, OF COURSE, Tara’s alters refer to her all the time. They’re so self-aware!
3. In case you were crossing your fingers and hoping for range, the signature Diablo Cody Juno dialogue is here, too:
One friend asked me if I’d seen the show and when I rolled my eyes and groaned asked “What was the exact moment when the show lost you? For me it was when the teenage daughter answered her phone “Hello sex robot!” This moment occurs approximately two minutes in, and is only the first of MANY “clever” “quips” peppered throughout. If you want to say “ugh” twenty times in half an hour, by all means, watch this show.
4. Tara’s family (teenage daughter, son, and husband) treat her fake disease like it’s normal. Her husband, Max, is particularly unworried and even amused by his wife’s condition, even though it’s clear that if a situation like this existed, Tara would be taken to a mental hospital, probably for the rest of her life. If this show were intended to be a straight-up comedy, that would be fine, but it’s not: it’s supposed to have heart, and we’re supposed to care and believe. And that’s the major issue here: this show is not a comedy. This show is sad and uncomfortable to watch — which is why everyone gets angry at the end and wants their 30 minutes and respect for Toni Collette back.
5. The worst thing about this show is the fact that the extremely talented and discerning Patton Oswalt is going to play a recurring role in upcoming episodes, which is so painful to imagine that I can’t outright dismiss The United States Of Tara, so here’s a last-ditch suggestion for fixing it that, in homage to the plot of the pilot I’ll call “Plan B”:
Put Tara’s character back on her medication, and then have a normal show with these characters and actors, simply mentioning Tara’s condition from time to time for consistency and suspense. With this kind of talent, there was never really any need for a stupid gimmick. If only somebody had told Diablo Cody that before she picked up her hamburger phone and listened to Steven’s high-dea.
(If you still want to watch this show and you don’t have Showtime, you can watch the first episode here. But WHY?)