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Wednesday, January 19, 2011

United States of Tara: Season 2

I burned through the second season of Showtime’s United States of Tara over the long MLK weekend. I know a lot of people got burned out on Diablo Cody after they realized “hey, wait, nobody talks like that” a quarter of the way through re-watching Juno, but for the most part she keeps her idiosyncrasies a little more in line here.

To me “Tara” is a show that really takes advantage of its premium cable status without falling into the concomitant pratfalls of overreliance on nudity and swearing. Pay cable allows you to do stories that the networks would never consider, but it takes creative discipline to use that freedom well. On “Tara” that freedom accounts for the unconventional and dysfunctional nature of the Gregson family. This is a show that gets that families can go through a lot of shit together and still come out of it loving each other.

One thing I really love about the show is that it allows actors who are normally stuck in comic relief/rom-com best-friend hell to be leading lights. Toni Collette is the headliner, and does terrific work, but John Corbett (Tara’s husband) and Rosemarie Dewitt are just as awesome. Dewitt in particular is adept at making her character, Tara’s sister, a relatable bitch. She’s selfish and sympathetic at the same time. It’s not an easy trick, but it’s one Dewitt seems particularly good at. (See also her turn in Rachel Getting Married.)

The Gregson children, played by Brie Larson and Keir Gilchrist (who are both in Scott Pilgrim vs. the World) are wrapped up in admittedly far-fetched escapades, especially Larson’s Kate, who over the second season finishes high school early, befriends an artist with a checkered past, and assumes the role of her comic book creation, Princess Valhalla Hawkwind in order to receive gifts from strange men online. (Try getting away with that plot on CBS.)

Gilchrist’s Marshall Gregson has the comparatively smooth character arc of trying to figure out whether or not he’s really gay, and how he can still be normal either way. Oh, and he has a girlfriend the whole time, who seems not to mind if he is gay.

Along the way, Tara’s relapse into her alters after a long absence creates trouble in her marriage while also bringing her closer to revealing the childhood trauma that may her caused her dissociation in the first place. There are some big revelations near the end of the season, which makes the wait until the third season premieres (or even longer, since I don’t have Shotime, until the DVD comes out) a very hard one indeed.

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