Saluting the United States of Tara
Finished up the third and final season of United States of Tara today.
Yes, I’m on a Diablo Cody binge right now. Decided to give it a spin after having mixed feelings regarding Young Adult and to a certain extent – Jennifer’s Body and Juno. I just might be the only person on the internet that didn’t really have a problem with Jennifer’s Body. In fact, as a horror fan, I thought it was spoofy and high fun. It seemed to both mock and alternately love the horror genre in ways few flicks manage to get right.
The Ginger Snaps comparisons are lost on me. I’ve seen both and didn’t once think of Ginger Snaps while watching Jennifer’s Body. If anything, I thought of the original Buffy the Vampire Slayer movie. All the goobery dialogue and tongue-in-cheekness there.
Also – how hard does a female writer have to work to get some respect up in H-Town ya’ll? She won a damned Academy Award and at least two characters she helped script have either won major awards or been nominated (possibly a third depending how Young Adult fares). And still, she gets a ton of e-hate and bitchy comments cause she stripped for a year or something. I don’t even know. But it totally has nothing to do with her gender or anything. Carry on.
Back to United States of Tara: The show is about a woman with Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID) leading a suburban life in Kansas, raising two children with her husband who is a self-employed landscaper.
Cody’s skills as a creator and writer are on fine display here. I was wary approaching it – a bit burnt out on mental illness as comedy fodder, or reality TV fodder, or fodder in general.
What struck me? In the same way that Juno struck me? The mid-west normalcy. The harkening back to classic TV shows that I identified with in my youth, like Roseanne. A family living together using sarcasm, humor and love to sustain themselves. Only mental illness fills the role of economic hardship as the main struggle in the lives of the Gregsons.
There seems to be a strong emphasis on Cody’s work recently towards examining mental illness in a comedic way. Dark humor around these topics still seems a bit iffy, but I can’t see how it’s much worse than something like Dexter. That dude actually kills people. Tara doesn’t do much other than harm herself and assault the people around her. One is certainly worse than the other, but I’m sure some will try to argue the point.
As far as the main complaints against the work of Diablo Cody – yes, there are some creative dialogue exchanges, but they are far more tamed and tempered than the Juno days. United States of Tara isn’t all witty reparte – there is a foundation of real love running underneath the family. I’m hard pressed to think of many other TV shows that depict this love/hate relationship with families with as much honesty (again, Roseanne).
Toni Collette playing as many as seven different people is phenomenal. The Emmy and Golden Globes she won for this role are well deserved, and she is my new actress crush. Also appreciate that the show features three well written female leads, without demeaning the roles the males play in their lives. In fact, the father figure is central to the survival of the family on an emotional level. Patton Owsalt as the sister’s baby daddy isn’t too bad either. I secretly ship him and Diablo Cody.
Sadly, the series is short lived. Only 3 seasons to its credit. Even more depressing given it was one of the few shows on air created by a woman, written (mostly) by a woman and produced by two women (Cody and Collette).
Bechdel Test: “United States of Tara” features more than two female characters with names who converse about something other than men and therefore DOES PASS the women test, DOES PASS the men test and does not feature more than two minority characters who have names, and speak to one another about something other than white people so it DOES NOT PASS the race test.