Friday, 24 June 2011

TV REVIEW: United States Of Tara Season 3

I have at least eight, possibly nine people in my head.

United States of Tara was one of those shows I can't entirely say why I kept watching, I simply just did. Dealing with the adventures of wife and mother Toni Collette dealing with her family, whilst having DID, it always had elements and aspects I liked but was always frustrating and inconsistent in equal measure. Its first season was kind of more bad then it was good, the second ironed out a lot of the kinks and was fun to watch but didn't really go anywhere, with everyone off in their own subplot until everything converged in a big mess. I preferred it to the first, but something was still missing for me. I mean Toni Collette's performance was always great, but the writing always felt a little aimless. That and the Diablo Cody dialogue, which I'd say had about a 1/3 clever to smug ratio and really made the thing become unbearable at times.

But season three wasn't just better, it was decidedly so. It was as if the show had somehow gleaned everything that wasn't working, or most of it at least and finally began acknowledging everything that was fucked up about the premise. Multiple-personalities makes for some wacky hijinks certainly, but growing up with that around you and having that be part of your everyday life is something close to horrifying and I felt that this was never dealt with satisfactorily enough. It was a dark premise played for light comedy, with its more hardened qualities mostly washed over. But this year the show dove headfirst in to correcting that, becoming the darker, more twisted show it had flirted with before and put together one of the best seasons of TV last year had to offer, which played both as a dark family comedy and - as weird as it is to say - a slasher movie. It also brought the best out of Collette, who did the best work she's done on the show this year, playing both the hero and villain of the show and deserving an Emmy emphatically. Of course given the fact that it has been cancelled by Showtime, that probably won't happen, but still. It was awesome, and I can't recommend it enough.

Perhaps part of the problem of Tara in the past is that none of the cast has been able to keep pace with Collette, and there's been no-one for her to act off but herself. Yet the addition of Eddie Izzard as a professor who takes an extra-curricular interest in Tara was a master stroke. Not only because it provided the audience with a character as fascinated by her condition as we were supposed to be, but because Izzard was just terrific. The best I've ever seen him be probably. A genius stand-up, I've never really been convinced by his abilities as an actor in the past, perhaps with the exception of his terrific performance in The Riches, but here he just knocked it the fuck out, and his scenes with Collette were amongst the best television to be found this year. It was almost detrimental to the rest of the show how engaging this became after a while.

Supposing it would be bad form to throw the slasher movie aspect at you without clarifying, Collette develops a new personality, to go with her quite expansive current collection, a 15 year old abusive boy named Bryce, who goes about killing the other personalities in an effort to claim her body for himself. In turn this spins the whole family into a spiral, impacting everyone's life and making her not only unpredictable to be around, but also dangerous. Bryce is a pretty terrifying creation, and while it seems obvious to say Collette plays the role incredibly, it makes the most interesting aspect of the show seeing his affect on other people. Particularly Izzard and John Corbett's Max, the latter being always the most impenetrable character on the series finally gets dealt with in a genuine way beyond, the long-suffering husband character. I'd still say the main problem with the show is that it doesn't know what to do with the kids, so it sends them on empty subplot odyssey's that tend to go nowhere, but Brie Larsen and Keir Gilchrist are strong enough actors not to make it too unbearable. And similarly, the show is tremendously enjoyable, the darkness building up throughout the season in lieu of lighter stuff at the beginning. It manages to be fun, not simply heavy.

But ultimately, I think this season of the show worked much more for me because it was the first year where they knew where they wanted to go, and it was a place that made for some fantastically engaging television. I criticize the Dexter model a lot, you know where everyone on your show is so shit you need to bring in a caliber guest star to keep up with your leading man, but here it was a terrifically beneficial step, and in a way allowing there to be an actor not blown of the screen by Collette made it an altogether more fascinating watch. That and a forty year old actress playing a teenage male serial killer and the whole thing playing out like a Brian De Palma movie with Juno dialogue.

Rating: 8/10

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