In Which We Sit On A Pale Pink Marshmallow

UNITED STATES OF TARA

Dissociative Identity Disorder

by Eleanor Morrow

United States of Tara
creator Diablo Cody

Let’s face facts: the pro-life lobby had a bunch of stripper-era Diablo Cody photos and they forced her to write Juno lest Ramesh Ponnuru publish the illict photos in his secret Republican porn webblog.

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diablo and steven…they have obviously at least eskimo-kissed

There was every reason to expect United States of Tara to exist along those same lines. Every character in the pilot was a whining composite of Ellen Page’s quirky yet optimistic preteen. They all talked in the same overwrought California lingo — at first, it’s annoying, but then you start to miss that level of sophistication in other shows. After the pilot, where Tara’s most irritating alter took the stage, it’s been all uphill from there.

UNITED STATES OF TARA

tara and her sister charmaine

Without the fanfare accorded her earlier project, the Steven Spielberg produced Tara has quietly become one of the most entertaining shows on television, largely for the reason that it explores territory that serial television has never before touched.

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marshmallow’s fellow cream puff

Ironically it now seems like Tara’s predicament has taken a crucial backseat to her brilliant surrounding cast. Start with Tara’s less well-liked sister, Charmaine. Rosemarie Dewitt deserves the Oscar that Kate Winslet stole through Nazi sex. Last episode she had her off-center boobs corrected surgically while Tara’s alter Buck ministered to her every need. He even conditioned her ends. It was the most brilliant, touching television since Tony Soprano’s first panic attack.

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Tara’s children are equally gut-busting. Brie Larson is damn near perfect as Tara’s daughter, and while the show flirted with teenage rebellion storyline for her, it soon found more amusement in teaching her gay brother how to get guys and making out with her geeky boss from Barnaby’s (a transcendent Nate Corddry). This show is so well cast it doesn’t even have time for Patton Oswalt- Rosemarie DeWitt sex jokes.

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Tara’s youngest is Marshall, an uptight high school feglia who’s more adorable than Ellen Page and her bare stomach combined. Marshall’s cannily seducing another youth by playing hard-to-get and damn if it isn’t working, Marshmallow. His participation in a Xtian Hellhouse performance was funnier than all seven seasons of Two and a Half Men.

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You just don’t see this stuff on television, and yet the Kansas-set show isn’t looking to surprise all the time. Like Gus Van Zant and Harmony Kormine’s depictions of the lives of young America, Tara is at its most shocking when it bares the humanity and decency of people you wouldn’t expect it from. Like mothers, for example.

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“you don’t think you did sarah jessica parker in a past life, do you?”

This is perhaps best done with Tara’s husband, Aidan on Sex in the City, the groom in My Big Fat Greek Wedding, John Corbett. It would be so easy to paint him as the saint or the pure straight men to all the crazy people his wife contains, but there’s something understandable about every moral conundrum he faces. We can barely live even if we are ourselves alone, says Max’s face as Tara moves seamlessly into one of her alters.

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she’ll probably win an emmy for this show after it’s canceled

In a recent episode, Tara’s parents came to Overland Park intending to take the children away. Instead, Tara’s newest alter — a poncho gnome that pissed on things — made her father think his lack of bladder control was proof he was no longer equipped to raise children. Tara looks like a better parent put in that kind of perspective, but her failings towards her children are obvious. She gets a light hand from the show’s writers, because no one could sympathize properly with someone they believe to be a bad mother.

united-states-of-tara-credits-opening-united-states-of-tara-3955071-624-352

I think people have a hard time empathizing with Toni Collette’s Tara, even though she is doing the acting equivalent of the five minute mile every week. It’s easy to pull a Winslet and flop your tatas around for giggles, but Collette’s range is so breathtaking it really is fun to watch, even if most struggle to connect with Tara’s level of mental illness. As difficult as it is for the person with the illness, there’s something exciting about it for her family and friends. In the end, there’s always another Tara to feel bonded to.

Eleanor Morrow is a contributor to This Recording. This is her first appearance in these pages. She is a writer living in New York.

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“A Daisy Through Concrete” – Eels (mp3)

“I Like Birds” – Eels (mp3)

“Something Is Sacred” – Eels (mp3)

“Estate Sale” – Eels (mp3)

UNITED STATES OF TARA

PREVIOUSLY ON THIS RECORDING

What can you say now.

Robots in disguise.

Where he would live.

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