Along with Nurse Jackie, United States of Tara started its third season on Showtime Monday night. So how does season three look? Certainly like one of the more unique shows on television.
Confession time: I have never seen Juno. The only reason I know who Diablo Cody is, is because of all the publicity that surrounded that movie. I'd never seen this show either until now. So for me, United States of Tara was a big blank slate without any expectations or preconceived notions. Now, I can say that I wouldn't necessarily call it appointment television, but I am considerably impressed with how this show tackles a very unique subject while keeping itself down to earth.
The core of the show is, of course, the title character, played by the talented Toni Collette. It's easy to see how she won an Emmy for this role. Who else is asked to play multiple unique characters on a weekly basis? The number of "alters" that she has to bring to life could practically be its own ensemble cast, and yet she never loses sight of Tara herself in all the madness. I found Tara endearing, because while she may be struggling, she never loses her humanity, or her heart. Even when she does something peculiar, I never out and out dislike her. Collette brings a certain goodwill to the role that makes it work.
There are also some intriguing supporting cast members here. I've never been a John Corbett fan, but I like him playing off Collette as Tara's supportive husband, Max. I was a fan of the short-lived FOX series Standoff, so it's great to see Rosemarie Dewitt here (although I have a hard time seeing her romantically entangled with former King of Queens star Patton Oswalt, but methinks that's the point). Dewitt's Charmaine meets a fellow mom named Abby, who is played by a lovely actress named Gillian Vigman that I've loved ever since she played Liz Walker on ABC's short-lived but brilliant Sons & Daughters. Eddie Izzard appears in eight of the season's thirteen episodes as Tara's new college professor. One thing you can say about Showtime series across the board is that they do feature some really interesting guest stars.
Unlike with season three of Nurse Jackie, I see a lot of change across the third season of United States of Tara. Not to say that there isn't change in the former, but whereas Jackie seemed to remain pretty much the same to me, there's a lot going on in Tara's life from the beginning of the season to its end. You've already seen her decide to re-enroll in college (something most people with that option never do, period) and the experience of college life is just the beginning. To give specifics would be spoiling, but there are some major developments in the season, not just for Tara but for several main characters, for better and for worse (and sometimes a combination of both). You're really going to see these characters take a journey this season, and it's true what they say about the ride being as much if not more fun than the destination.
If you don't believe me, take it from the people driving the bus. Diablo Cody tells us that a key figure this season was built to give a voice to the show's own detractors. "It was so crucial to give a strong voice to the many professionals and Showtime viewers who might watch Tara's actions and think 'That can't be real,'" she explains. A gutsy move indeed, and one that pays off as we see Tara's reactions to and interactions with skeptical Professor Hatteras (Izzard). As a writer, I can say that sometimes we get the best out of our characters by playing devil's advocate, and this is one of those cases. Look for Tara to rally her selves as a result: "She and her alters interact and cooperate in a way they definitely didn't [before]," adds Cody. "This year she wants to succeed not only for her own sake, but for her family."
Yet don't get too excited. Tara's disorder isn't going to clear up overnight (if it did, we wouldn't have a show). Instead, the question is how we look at her, not necessarily how she looks at herself. "Who's better?" asks Cody. "A woman who wakes up not remembering who she was the night before, or a woman who holds meetings with her alternate personalities? It's hard to say." It's a subjective question, and one that season three of United States of Tara wants us to answer for ourselves. You can decide what you think Monday nights at 10:30 PM ET/PT on Showtime.