Friday, February 20, 2009

Watch for this

Have you been watching The United States of Tara?

I don't watch much television, don't often recommend programs, but if you have access to Showtime, and you're not watching this show, you are missing something dark and delicious.

Toni Collette stars as Tara Gregson, wife of Max, mother of Kate and Marshall and a gifted painter of murals. She also shares her body with Alice, T and Buck.

Tara suffers from dissociative identity disorder (DID), a mental condition in which a single person displays multiple distinct personalities, known as alters. It used to be called multiple personality disorder.

Something happened to Tara when she was a teen-ager, something awful, and the presence of the alters is in response to that event. Tara can't remember what it was, and no one else, not even her parents, seem to know what occurred.

There's a lot of controversy about whether or not the condition is real, but that's not the point of the show. Rather, it is a tour de force for Collette.

She is best known for her roles in the films, Muriel's Wedding and The Sixth Sense (she was the mother of the kid who saw dead people), and she shines in this role. Each of the four personalities are distinct characterizations; even her face looks different. Not just differently made up; different.

Alice is my favorite. She is the perfect housewife, always dressed and coifed just so, able to keep an ordered house and whip up multi-layer cakes for school bake sales.

But there is a layer of evil to Alice that shows itself now and then and it is chilling. Imagine June Cleaver with raging PMS. Or Carol Brady with a butcher knife and a real mad on. It is so much fun to watch Alice smile as she slashed those who oppose her into ribbons with her sharp tongue.

John Corbett (remember Chris on Northern Exposure?) is fantastic, too, as Max. The man has his faults but he has made a commitment to Tara that is poured in concrete. Max tolerates Alice and T but is not above a bit of male bonding with Buck, Tara's male alter.

Buck: I would have nailed her if my dick hadn't been shoot off in Nam.

Max: Buck, you were never in Viet Nam.

The supporting cast is strong, as well. Episode six, last week, featured Fred Ward and Pamela Reed as Tara's father and mother. Watching these two chip away at Tara's edges made it easy to understand why the poor lady has problems.

The United States of Tara is an antidote for those of us who watched Leave It to Beaver or The Brady Bunch and felt cheated because our families weren't like that.

United States of Tara. Sunday nights on Showtime. Watch for it.