United States of Tara suffocates on slang
I’ve been reluctant to write a review of United States of Tara, Showtime’s new comedy series from Diablo Cody, because I just can’t decide how I feel about the show. Like the title character, I seem to have split personalities with regards to my opinion. Part of me wants to love it because of Cody’s stellar writing in Juno and my major admiration of funny female writers, but another part of me just can’t ignore the trite and cliché dialogue that drags the series down.
The show chronicles Tara, a Kansas interior designer with Dissociative Identity Disorder, or Multiple Personality Disorder, as it’s more commonly known. Tara’s husband (John Corbett) and children (Keir Gilchrist and Brie Larson) go through life knowing that at any moment they could be dealing with T, a horny teenager, Buck, a horny redneck, or Alice, a 1950s housewife. The concept of a regular suburban woman with multiple personalities who has to function in every-day life is interesting and Toni Collette certainly has the talent to pull off the character, or rather characters. The vast differences between Tara’s “alters” offer lots of room for comedy and drama, but the zippy slang dialogue that became trademark Cody just doesn’t seem to fit.
Tara’s teen alter ego T is the most annoying. The character is introduced with a side ponytail and g-string underwear telling her daughter, “I’ve been digging in your closet for an hour and I can’t freaking get to Narnia.” In the course of a few minutes, T referrs to morning-after pills as “kill pills”, having credit cards as being “fully laminated” and calls chicken “cluck cluck”. It all starts to feel like the Saturday Night Live sketch featuring Tina Fey playing Juno. This kind of dialogue might have worked in a film where lines were uttered by actual young people instead of mothers who have a teenage alter ego, but here it sounds like something out of a parental advice pamphlet. Seeing this writing in a different context just illustrates how much director Jason Reitman must have brought to Juno.
After watching the pilot, I’m just not sure if I can make it through any more episodes. I cenrtainly can’t continue if T is going to be the primary alter ego inhabiting the leading lady. To be honest, not much actually happens in the first episode beyond Cody’s slang sayings, so there’s not much hope for Buck or Alice as saving graces. The whole thing is just disappointing because it has such a good founfation, with a talented cast and meaty concept, but seems to trip over its own perceived cleverness. I could be convinced to give Tara another try if Cody could “take a chill pill” on the teen speak and deliver some actual content.