TV: United States of Tara (2009-2011)

Creator: Diablo Cody
Language: English
Length: 3 seasons of 12 episodes of 45 minutes each.
Finished on: 10 Apr (season 1), 13 Apr (season 2), 17 Apr (season 3)

I can be a bit of a sucker for things involving gay teens, as I mentioned in the previous review, and I discovered this show via something mentioning its gay subplot involving the son of the family. But that’s not really what the show’s about; it’s about the mother, Tara, who has disassociative identity disorder, and frequently transforms into one of at three or four alternate identities at the drop of a hat. That’s it summed up in a nutshell, anyway. Surrounding the mother is a very typical American suburbia and nuclear family.

If there’s one thing I can say for this show, it’s that it’s really addictive. I basically watched all but one episode of the first season on my day off, and I’d finished the entire run in about 7 or 8 days. It’s just unfortunate they’re not making any more.

The characters are great, and all the acting is good, especially from the lead actress who effectively has to portray quite a few characters all at once. The show is good in that it doesn’t focus exclusively on the mother, even though it’s ostensibly about her and doing so would be tempting, and the other characters all get development too.

In its portrayal of the disorder it seems very sensitive, and although there is a decent amount of comedy that derives from the antics of the alternate identities, it’s handled in a way that isn’t mocking. I have to wonder how real it is, though. I’ve never had any experience of such a disorder, and it seems a bit too much like it was made up for TV. There is a skeptic character introduced in the third season to sort-of address this; amusingly, he’s played by Eddie Izzard, which I have to say I wasn’t expecting. And the woman’s sister fulfills this role at the beginning of the show.

I guess to criticise it I would perhaps point out that they’re clearly quite rich and middle-class, and live in a parallel universe where almost everyone is extremely attractive, which makes me feel a bit distant from them. And the aforementioned son doesn’t get much character development beyond being gay in the end – bemusingly, he has a coming out storyline in the second season after being clearly gay in the first (it seems he had come to a final decision). Although he’s not camp, his interests include classic film, literature and music and seem stereotypically gay to me. He and his sister don’t really have a constant storyline throughout the series like the mother, though; they have a different storyline in each season instead, like a different boyfriend each, for instance. It’s most obvious when she conveniently dumps her boyfriend in the last episode of one of the series.

In the end, I started to identify more with the daughter character, who just wants to get out of Hickville and explore the world. She even almost goes to Japan at one point, so I guess I’m a few steps ahead of her there.

Anyway, it’s a great show that’s not very well-known (you’ll have to download it outside the US). Its plot is great and has enough twists and turns to keep you guessing what’s going to happen next, and I really enjoyed it for that. Definitely recommended.

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