United States of Tara 2.1 – I Get Up, I Get Knocked Back Down Again

It may surprise you to see me kicking off a weekly look at Showtime’s “United States of Tara,” given that my DVD review of the show’s first season wasn’t exactly what you’d call glowing. If you can’t be bothered to click on the preceding link, allow me to summarize: I gave it a mere three stars out of a possible five, and the pilot alone left me in such a sour mood that it infiltrated my feelings about a great number of the subsequent episodes. Still, I plowed through the entire season – 12 episodes – and, by the end of the experience, I’d found that, although I still wasn’t necessarily a full-fledged “Tara” booster, I’d fallen for the storylines of the other characters (if not so much those of Tara and her alter-egos) enough to be intrigued about what Season 2 might hold.

Now, I’m not saying that the publicity department at Showtime read my review, but whether they did or didn’t, screener discs for the second season of “Tara” arrived in my mailbox last week…and since they’re here, thereby giving me the chance to watch and write about the episodes in advance of their air date, it’s too tempting an opportunity to resist. As such, I’m blogging about “United States of Tara: Season 2.”

So let’s get started, then, shall we?

When we first return to the lives of the Gregson family, we learn that Tara (Toni Collette) has been living a solitary existence for the past three months…which, in her case, means that her husband Max (John Corbett) and her kids Kate (Brie Larson) and Marshall (Nathan Cordrry) have had their mother all to themselves, with no visitations from any of the various alters. In fact, Tara’s so confident that they’re gone for good that, when we first see her, she’s in the midst of a family outing to the local thrift store drop-off, where they’re collectively dumping the wardrobes of Alice (the ’50s housewife), T (the horny teenager) and Buck (the loutish Vietnam vet). Clearly, any viewer who truly believes that this is the last we’ll see of the trio, not to mention the enigmatic and animalistic fourth alter, may be suffering from their own mental disorder, but fair enough, we’ll go along with it if only to discover the path that leads to their return, especially since the soundtrack to that stroll kicks off with the Zombies’ “Care of Cell 44.” Plus, things are set up as going so darned swimmingly for the family – Tara’s taking her meds and is back to some semblance of normalcy, her sister Charmaine (Rosemarie Dewitt) seems to be in a good relationship for a change, Max is doing well at work, Kate’s got her diploma, and Marshall’s as close to happy as he gets – that you know that, when the fall finally does come, it’s reeeeeeeally going to hurt.

It all starts with a gunshot. Turns out that one of the Gregson’s neighbors, Mr. Hubbard, has committed suicide, a fact in which Tara takes a strange sense of pride: “Guess what? The lady with all of the multiple personalities is not the most fucked-up person on the block.” (“You are now,” Kate observes dryly.) If nothing else, however, it results in the opportunity to meet Ted and Hany, who freely acknowledge that they’re known as the gay neighbors on the block, a self-description which may or may not have anything to do with their being invited over to the Gregsons’ house for dinner. The meal itself proves to be a success for the most part, even if it does find Ted telling one of the most depressing anecdotes ever (the punchline: “Teddy, you’re a disgrace”), but things grow disconcertingly dark with the post-dinner conversation, with Tara becoming noticeably fascinated by the discussion of Mr. Hubbard’s suicide. In his defense, Max notices the situation and does his best to try and change the topic by suggesting various incredibly unexciting games that the group could play, but the damage has already been done.

Marshall finds himself invited to sit in “The Fruit Bowl,” a.k.a. the gay table at school, where he seems momentarily overwhelmed by the sheer gayness of his lunch companions, but it’s an interesting moment when he tries to maintain a “love is love is love” mentality and finds it countered with an argument about how the government disagrees with that mindset. Later, we’re witness to Marshall’s new pal storming through a discussion where he’s trying to secure more gay rights for the school and is met with a mixture of indifference and annoyance, along with what is basically a suggestion to try being more of a kid and less of a gay rights activist. Instead of what I’d hoped would happen, which was Marshall trying to take a stand and show that, yes, love is love really is love, he succumbs to gay peer pressure…which, granted, probably is what would happen in a high school scenario like this one, but it still doesn’t mean that I’m not disappointed. Kate, meanwhile, is looking into a job with Federal Surveillance and Retrieval, desperately trying to select the most spy-like attire in her wardrobe, but it turns out to be a collections agency. As someone who’s worked for such an organization, I can assure you that it’s a far cry from glamorous, but if you can turn off your moral compass for the duration of a phone call, it can indeed prove financially lucrative. Unsurprisingly, Kate finds herself drawn into this career almost instantly. And Charmaine…? She’s engaged.

Oh, yeah. This is all going to collapse around them. There’s no way they can stay happy for an extended period of time, especially not now that Buck has reemerged from hibernation. And, say, do I sense sparks between Buck and his new waitress friend…? Fingers crossed!

Random things I liked:

* The running joke about how, no matter what Tara does, it generally results in someone wondering if they’re seeing one of her alters, such as when she dances during the dinner party. “No, unfortunately, that’s just her,” Charmaine tells her boyfriend, with a sigh.

* When the waitress at the local watering hole flirts with Max as she asks him if he wants another beer, Tara announces – without being asked – that she doesn’t need another one quite yet. “I’m on anti-psychotics,” she explains, “so I’m taking it slow.”

* Am I the only one who was glad to see Joey Lauren Adams? She just hasn’t been getting enough work lately, but perhaps this role – which would appear to hark back to one of her most famous (in “Chasing Amy”) – will find her starting to get regular gigs again.

One thing I definitely didn’t like, though, was the fact that, beyond the post-dinner stuff, Max didn’t seem to notice the signs that Tara was clearly affected by this suicide. Max and Tara have been together for years and he knows her issues. Clearly, he should be on their guard at all times for telltale signs that she might be slipping back into old patterns, and even after going several months without any visitations from the alters, it just doesn’t ring true to me that he wouldn’t be watching for them at all times in order to prevent them from finding an escape route out of Tara’s subconscious. But, then, that’s where I guess you have to maintain your suspension of disbelief. Let’s hope I have mine fully charged, in case I have to fall back on it throughout the season.

  

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