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The End Of A Tara--After Three Seasons, Tara (And A Great Toni Collette) Goes Out Swinging
on June 22, 2011
When "United States of Tara" premiered on Showtime in 2009, its creator Diablo Cody was still riding high from her Oscar win as the writer of "Juno." It's clear that she wanted to establish an eccentric and complicated comedy that spoke to serious issues in an outrageous way. I mean the idea of tackling a multiple personality disorder within a robust family sitcom is certainly an unconventional notion. And her muse seemed to be the energetic Toni Collette who brought numerous dimensions to the multifaceted lead character. As a suburban wife and mother in Overland Park, Kansas--Tara, with her built in plethora of alters, provided Collette with endless acting possibilities. And who doesn't love showy performances? Winning both an Emmy and a Golden Globe, Collette embraced the show's lunacy while finding true heart and pain when appropriate. For me, she has always been the primary reason to watch this chaotic program and the show excelled in the quieter, more realistic, moments showcasing the family dynamic.
I have watched "Tara" for its entire three season run and have not always embraced the over-the-top antics of the supporting cast. Tara's daughter and sister, in particular, have struggled to find an easy balance as real characters. Their wackiness has somehow always felt false and distracted me from the genuineness of the central theme. Rosemarie DeWitt, a fine actress in every respect, could be undeniably grating as sister Charmaine while Brie Larson has been saddled with some of the series' most unfortunate plot lines (an awkward harassment case at work in Season One, a ludicrous Internet story in Season Two) as a daughter moving into adulthood. I mention this at length because the show could have too much eccentricity for its own good. Thankfully Collette and a understated John Corbett (as Tara's husband) kept things grounded.
Season Three (Tara's final), for me, began as one of the strongest. Suddenly the show became much more focused with a central story line involving Tara returning to school. With an invaluable assist from Eddie Izzard as a psychology professor that helps Tara finally deal with her emotional issues--many of the more contrived subplots concerning the peripheral characters fell away. Everyone seemed to have purpose again and the attention returned to our heroine. As secrets were revealed, deals were struck, and calm was devastated by the emergence of a new and dangerous alter--the show had a renewed vigor. But at its best, the program pushed too far for my taste. For the second half of the season, Tara becomes a clear and obvious danger to herself and her loved ones (setting fire in the truck of a car, cutting her flesh, poisoning someone, ransacking the house, threatening). At any one of these signs, hospitalization would have been indicated--but the family acted as if it were no big deal for weeks! Eventually, hard decisions had to be made, but I never believed that Tara's loved ones would have left her at risk for such a long period. And make no mistake, this is some serious stuff regardless of it being played irreverently. It all became a bit implausible and disconcerting.
All in all, "Tara" was a unique and interesting addition to the Showtime comedy line-up. Sometimes inconsistent, generally chaotic, the program was always fascinating. Collette deserves a big cheer for a top notch performance. May she see its like again. KGHarris, 6/11.