The United States Of Tara: Toni Collette, shown here in her "annoying teenager" persona, has a lot to handle.
It's time for the next big prestige-project pay-cable dramatic rollout: Showtime's The United States Of Tara, a new half-hour comedy-drama starring Toni Collette and written and executive-produced by Diablo Cody, the Oscar-winning writer of Juno. Those are impressive credentials, and it's disappointing, but not surprising, that the show can't quite live up to them yet.
The show, which premieres Sunday night at 10:00 p.m., tells the story of Tara, a mother and wife whose disassociative identity disorder forces her husband and kids to live with several "alters" (her other personalities, in the more familiar terminology), including a beer-soaked trucker named Buck, a traditional housewife named Alice, and a young, rebellious teenager named T.
The question I ask of any television show or any movie where someone plays multiple characters is whether I care about any of them individually. Certainly, in Tara, Collette impresses with her ability to shed her skin, but if all she's doing is disappearing into a series of caricatures, then the result is more a salute to her pliability than a story that's going to be involving in the long term.
A look at the pilot and an unexpected puppet reference, after the jump...
In the half-hour pilot, the real Tara is only on screen for a couple of minutes, looking anxious and unhappy. The rest of the time, it's a lot of T and Buck, both of whom are entirely two-dimensional. T is a promiscuous, thong-flashing pain in the behind; Buck is a swaggering redneck who brawls and talks about guns a lot. It's entirely possible that future episodes will flesh out their humanity a bit, but for the moment, it's a lot of flashy acting for flashy acting's sake. If T isn't independently interesting and Buck isn't independently interesting and Tara is around this rarely, it's hard to find a firm place to stand in the story.
The weight, therefore, falls on John Corbett (probably familiar to you either as Chris In The Morning of Northern Exposure or as the fiancé in