Showtime Entertainment // 2011 // 329 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Clark Douglas // July 27th, 2011
The battle for the student body begins.
"My ex-wife tried to make me apologize for being mean in her dream. I refused."
Once again, Tara Gregson (Toni Collette, In Her Shoes) is waging an ongoing battle for control of her own mind. Due to her Dissociative Identity Disorder, sometimes Tara's quirky "alters" will take over: the prim and proper Alice, the wild Child T, the redneck Buck, the feral Gimme, the childlike Chicken, and the helpful therapist Shoshanna. Despite her challenges, Tara has decided to re-enroll in college and grab that bachelor's degree she was so close to many years ago. Her new professor is a pompous fellow named Dr. Hattaras (Eddie Izzard, The Riches), who refuses to believe in DID and is convinced Tara is just playing pretend as a means of getting attention.
Meanwhile, Tara's daughter Kate (Brie Larson, Scott Pilgrim vs. the World) continues her search for a satisfying profession and a stable relationship. Tara's teenage son Max (Keir Gilchrist, It's Kind of a Funny Story) is also having a series of relationship problems, and has recently selected filmmaking as a new personal passion. Tara's sister Charmagne (Rosmarie DeWitt, Mad Men) is dealing with the challenges of raising a baby with her endlessly devoted boyfriend Neil (Patton Oswalt, Ratatouille). Finally, Tara's husband Max (John Corbett, Northern Exposure) continues to permit his frustrations with life to boil to the surface.
All twelve episodes of United States of Tara: The Third Season are spread across two discs...
* The Full F*@$ You Finger
* Dr. Hattaras' Miracle Elixer
* The Road to Hell is Paved with Breast Intentions
* The Electrifying and Magnanimous Return of Beaverlamp
* Chicken 'n Corn
* Bryce Will Play
* Train Wreck
* Crunchy Ice
* The Good Parts
Well, United States of Tara, it was a good run. Alas, after three increasingly ambitious seasons of entertaining television, Showtime has pulled the plug on the program that had quietly turned into its best show (though this is largely due to the fact that Dexter's wheel-spinning has become frustrating and Weeds has wandered off into shark-jumping territory). Those of you who have been watching the program on DVD (as I have) undoubtedly have an important question to ask: "How well does it end?"
Without digging into spoilers, permit me to say that United States of Tara ends rather well under the circumstances. Yes, there is one significant unresolved plot thread and one is made rather curious about where a fourth season would have gone, but the finale works quite well given the unexpected nature of the cancellation. It's a touching, cathartic capper to a most intriguing season. The show's third go-round frequently swings for the fences, whiffing in a silly manner on occasion but knocking it out of the park just as often.
If the first season of United States of Tara was an alter ego-fueled comedy and the second season was a moving family drama, then the third season is basically a horror-thriller of sorts. Granted, we're not exactly dealing with a Friday the 13th installment here, but this season's central Tara storyline (in which she develops a murderous new alter ego that begins violently slaughtering Tara's other alter egos) is definitely the darkest thing the show has handled to date. Collette's performance as the savage "Bryce" is also her most interesting alter ego work to date, as she adopts the old A Clockwork Orange "head down, eyes up" approach and works from there.
However, this season's primary focus actually seems to be the adult males of the program, each of whom has had their life turned upside-down by someone else. John Corbett does remarkable work as Max, whose easy-going, amiable demeanor is frequently transforming into unchecked rage in this season. He's just come to the realization that he's the noble captain of a sinking ship, and he's not sure that he really wants to remain onboard.
Patton Oswalt has a considerably expanded presence this season as Neil, who has turned into one of the program's best characters. Neil just wants Charmagne to love him and accept his affection, but she continually seems to keep him just a little further than he wants to be. Oswalt turns in many of this season's most charming moments, including a scene in which he reads an issue of Warren Ellis' comic book Planetary to his newborn baby.
Finally, Eddie Izzard's Dr. Hattaras is forced to call his life's work into question thanks to the one-two punch of a former patient's suicide and Tara's remarkably persuasive DID. Izzard's character seems a little thinly written at times, but the actor's performance is so richly moving and entertaining that we don't really notice the problems. Izzard sells the professor's volatile plot arc with grace and precision.
All three of these men are exasperated and occasionally angry about the manner in which they're being challenged by the women in their lives, but all three are ultimately devoted enough to their larger ideals that they continue pressing on regardless. It's a striking new perspective for a program that spent its first two seasons looking at things from Tara's point-of-view, and I'm particularly glad Corbett and Oswalt were really given a chance to shine before the show was yanked off the air.
The DVD transfer is a typically sturdy TV-show release, boasting strong detail, bright colors, acceptably deep blacks and natural flesh tones. Audio is similarly sturdy, spotlighting dialogue and an appreciably understated soundtrack (speaking of which, I miss the show's inventive theme song -- who decided to kill that offbeat charmer?). There are no extras included.
The subplots involving the kids are a little less interesting this season, though the performances of Larson and Gilchrist are no less engaging than before. United States of Tara: Season Three seems to be more interested in the drama of the grown-ups this time around, and Tara's children feel a little short-changed as a result.
United States of Tara was the rare modern Showtime program that managed to evolve in positive ways as the series progressed. This third outing continues that trend, and serves as a mostly satisfying (if unintended) conclusion to the show. Tara/Alice/Buck/T/Gimme/Chicken/Shoshanna/Bryce and the rest of the Gregson family will be missed.
Review content copyright © 2011 Clark Douglas; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2013 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
Studio: Showtime Entertainment
* 1.78:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
* English (CC)
Running Time: 329 Minutes
Release Year: 2011
MPAA Rating: Not Rated