Diablo Cody And Spielberg Can't Save 'Tara' The new Showtime series United States of Tara couldn't be more of a sure thing. Besides the promising premise of a comedy about a mother with multiple personality disorder, it boasts Steven Spielberg as executive producer, Oscar-winning Juno screenwriter Diablo Cody and respected actress Toni Collette. Yet critic Andrew Wallenstein says "Tara" is a disappointment.
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Diablo Cody And Spielberg Can't Save 'Tara'

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Diablo Cody And Spielberg Can't Save 'Tara'

Diablo Cody And Spielberg Can't Save 'Tara'

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MADELEINE BRAND, host:

Most TV critics just adore actress Toni Collette in her new role, or roles. She plays a woman with multiple personalities in the Showtime comedy that begins on Sunday. It's called the "United States of Tara." Our own TV critic Andrew Wallenstein likes Toni Collette, but he offers a less than glowing assessment of the show itself.

ANDREW WALLENSTEIN: It doesn't seem right not to like "United States of Tara." After all, its executive producer is the great Steven Spielberg. The show was his idea, which he handed off to Diablo Cody, the Oscar-winning screenwriter of last year's indie film hit "Juno." And to play the part of a Midwestern mom juggling four different identities, they got Collette, a respected Aussie actress who was outstanding in movies like "Muriel's Wedding" and "In Her Shoes." All this firepower and yet the series is a misfire. Not a total mess by any means, it will find its fans. But the show has too many flaws to forgive. I will say this much: The premise is genius. Just imagine the confusion in your home if your wife or mother was prone to altered states, sometimes in the other gender, as you'll hear in this scene that marks the entrance of the uber-macho Buck.

(Soundbite of TV show "United States of Tara")

Mr. KEIR GILCHRIST: (As Marshall) I'm not sure if Mom's here. I mean, Mom's here, but I don't know if Mom's here. I think maybe Buck?

Ms. TONI COLLETTE: (As Tara) Right again, Peach Fuzz.

Mr. JOHN CORBETT: (As Max) Buck, nice. Hey, don't smoke in here, OK, man?

Ms. COLLETTE: (As Tara) I always smoke when I party.

Mr. CORBETT: (As Max) Well, this isn't a party.

WALLENSTEIN: Buck is just one of Tara's three other personalities. There's also T, the teenage rebel, and Alice, a happy homemaker. Tara slips in and out of these characters kind of like that not-so-jolly green giant Bruce Banner used to become when he got really angry. Only you might call Tara the incredible sulk; getting upset is what triggers her disorder. Collette looks like she's having fun with the character, but after a few episodes, the shtick starts to feel like a silly "Saturday Night Live" skit. And yet this show clearly wants to aim higher, using its character's diagnosis as a metaphor for the many roles the modern woman plays in her life.

That's screenwriter Cody's MO. The pregnant teen from "Juno" may seem worlds away from the troubled Tara, but at their foundation, they are both women whose emotional distress is muffled by ceaseless sarcasm. This is Cody's trademark when it comes to dialogue, which is thick with snark and pop-culture references. Absorbing that episode after episode gets to be a tad exhausting. Other creative decisions don't quite work out either. Tara's husband, played by John Corbett, is so infinitely patient with his wife it just doesn't ring true. Less sensitive to Tara is her own sister, who's played by Rosemarie DeWitt. So terrific is the title character in the recent indie film "Rachel Getting Married," she is wasted here in a one-note role that comes off rather shrill. Here's a scene with her and Corbett.

(Soundbite of TV show "United States of Tara")

Ms. ROSEMARIE DEWITT: (As Charmaine) I mean, it is really hard for me to see my sister like that, and I never thought she would still be this way.

Mr. CORBETT: (As Max) She's really not doing that bad.

Ms. DEWITT: (As Charmaine) I mean, why can't she just stop? I mean, it's not even a real disease, Max.

Mr. CORBETT: (As Max) It's real, Charmie. Look, nobody's trying to imply that you don't have a right to be angry. You do. We're all angry at the crazy.

WALLENSTEIN: It's not that "United States of Tara" is too insensitive to a medical condition. If anything, the show made me more inclined to understand what the actual disorder is like, instead of just milking it for mild laughs. Showtime chose the latter. But if a competing network were to turn the real thing into a reality show, it could only be an improvement.

(Soundbite of music)

BRAND: The "United States of Tara" premieres Sunday on Showtime. Andrew Wallenstein is deputy editor for the Hollywood Reporter.

(Soundbite of music)

BRAND: Stay with us. NPR's Day to Day continues.

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