Saturday 2 July 2011

A Eulogy for United States of Tara

Ah, Tara. I can't begin to tell you how excited I was about your arrival on TV, written by the amazing Diablo Cody, starring the incomparable Toni Collette, dealing with a mental illness that no one knows much about, and that some people don't even think exists. From the very beginning you stood out from what can only be described as a lot of utter crap, managing to be funny and yet sensitive; extremely deep, and yet incredibly watchable. Have any TV shows been as good as you? Some, but not many. I can't even say how much I'm going to miss you, but let me tell you why I loved you.

Firstly, there was your cast. Toni Collette, who I already knew was an extremely versatile actress, just became something so good that one person probably shouldn't be allowed to be as talented as she is. She plays out the alters so well, but it is as Tara that she shines, apologetic for something that she can't control, and wanting so badly to just be like everyone else. She really steals the show, but there is still room for a whole load of equally talented actors, who create characters that anyone who watches can't help but love. John Corbett plays the long suffering but always supportive Max, the perfect husband that anyone who saw him as Aiden in Sex and the City always knew he could be, and Rosemarie Dewitt is Tara's flaky but lovable sister Charmaine, who tries her very best to help Tara, but doesn't always end up succeeding.

A really integral part of the programme, I think, are Tara and Max's kids, and the role that their mother has ended up playing in their lives and development. They were so well drawn and their reactions so well considered that it made it really interesting to see their reactions to all the crazy shit that they didn't ask for, and didn't have a choice in. The main result of this seems to have created 2 reasonably well-balanced teenagers, who know to stick close to each other and value each other's advice because they are the only two people who know what it's like to have Tara (and T, and Alice, and Buck...) as a mother. In series 3, I started feeling like Marshall was being unfair to Tara, but then it occurred to me that, actually, he was acting in a similar way to Kate in the first series, when, she was at (I think) the same age, whereas Kate had matured so much that she had become the much more accepting child. I think, in fact, Kate's development throughout the series was the most striking, and made her possibly my favourite character overall (kind of sort of want to be her a bit).

But United States of Tara was not all about the actors, it was about the stories too. And such stories they were! I can't remember being bored at any point in any episode, and along with the individual story of each episode, there was also the running theme throughout all the series of what exactly it was that had triggered Tara's condition, and how, if at all, she could be helped to become whole again. We have been brutally denied the answer to that question, but I think we all want to imagine a life for Tara where she can be happy, above all else. We still have those wonderful three seasons of television, though, and it is such cleverly structured and written television, of the sort that you don't normally have the pleasure to watch. Just one of the things that I found so clever was the way the alters acted, at times, like complete defence mechanisms when Tara couldn't cope with the situation. Hence, when Kate was having problems, T would come out (this is also why we saw less of T as Kate grew up), when Tara thought she was failing as a mother and an all round housewife, Alice would manifest herself, and Buck, I think, was a way to cope with marital problems, and a way to completely desexualise herself to her husband. This is not to say that I don't believe in DID, or that Tara did these things on purpose, but just that Cody used the alters to create the best storylines, and to the greatest effect.

So why did United States of Tara have to leave us? I can't think of one good reason for dropping such an engaging and thought provoking programme, when programmes like Hung (I watched the entire first season of this and honestly lost the will to live. I mean what was the point of it? Was it supposed to be funny?! Or sad? I just don't know!) and so many dreadful reality tv shows are still being made. Season 7 of Weeds has just started airing on Showtime, when everyone knows that it hasn't been good since season 3, or, at a push, 4. So why drop Tara? I can but assume that its viewing figures weren't great, which just makes me so depressed that no one wants to watch tv that is actually good, while they inanely dial in for their favourites on American Idol (or whatever) and drool idiotically all over the floor. Television bosses in England are so short-sighted that we haven't even seen a glimpse of Tara on British screens, and, considering her rude and abrupt exit from American tv, it doesn't look like we're going to get to ever. Thank God for Megavideo, is all I can say.

But anyway. I come to praise Tara, not to bury every other tv show. I will probably always resent Showtime for cancelling United States of Tara (and for letting that appalling 'road trip' season of Weeds to happen) but I must save my energy for hating on politicians and stuff like that rather than tv networks. But please people- stop watching crap and start watching the good programmes so I don't have to go through this kind of emotional anguish again, yeah? But, for now, under duress, I guess I'll just say goodbye to Tara and Max, Marshall and Kate, Charmaine, Neil and Wheels, to T, Alice, Buck, Gimme, Shoshanna and Chicken, and to everyone else who made United States of Tara so so fucking amazing. At least we'll always have boxsets.


  1. It's depressing to hear Tara is cancelled. I loved season 1 but honestly, haven't seen it past that since my free Showtime disappeared. I guess that makes me part of the problem. It's especially depressing when, as you pointed out, Weeds is still going on and really hasn't been good since season 3. And that's pushing it.

  2. I don't think you're necessarily part of the problem, since I wouldn't say 'you must ALL pay for showtime just to watch Tara!' but it's more like I can't understand why anyone who does pay for it wouldn't watch Tara! I would recommend the last two seasons (obviously!) though, they're pretty easy to find online :)

  3. Here is is! (Yes, it was before my time ;))

    Ugh, now I'm sad all over again that this show is over. I think one of the things I loved the most about this show was the relationship between Tara and Max. Max was so amazing - so supportive, and real and just rolled with the shit that went on. In some ways, he was very "Aiden" to me, but I loved Aiden, so that's ok :)