Judge Clark Douglas has an alter Eggo. Sometimes, waffles need blueberries.
One woman. Divided.
"I've never done anything except be good to you!"
Facts of the Case
Tara Gregson (Toni Collette, In Her Shoes) has suffered from dissociative identity disorder for many years. An ordinary wife and mother of two in her "regular" life, Tara occasionally transforms into a series of colorful "alters": the macho Buck, the prim and proper Alice, the trashy teenager T, and (most recently) the feral Gimme. At the end of United States of Tara's first season, Tara confronted a dark moment in her past and made a significant breakthrough. As the second season begins, Tara has gone several months without "turning." Just as it seems when she might be cured of her affliction, Buck re-emerges and begins conducting a passionate affair with a local bartender (Joey Lauren Adams, ExTerminators). This turn of events finally causes Tara's easy-going husband Max (John Corbett, Ramona and Beezus) to seriously contemplate whether he can stand being Tara's spouse much longer.
Meanwhile, Tara and Max's teenage children are having struggles of their own. Marshall (Keir Gilchrist, Dead Silence) is still coming to terms with his homosexual inclinations, attempting to figure out who he is and how to categorize his complex personality. Kate (Brie Larson, Scott Pilgrim vs. the World) has just taken a new job as a debt collector, which introduces her to a local artist named Lynda (Viola Davis, Doubt). With Lynda's encouragement, Kate finds herself dressing up as a comic book princess and finding a new form of empowerment in the process.
Tara's sister Charlotte (Rosemarie DeWitt, Rachel Getting Married) is also in the middle of some surprising developments. First, she gets engaged to her hunky boyfriend Nick (Matthew Del Negro, The Sopranos). Second, she learns that's she's going to have a baby. Third, she discovers that the baby actually belongs to her old pal Neil (Patton Oswalt, Ratatouille). Some difficult decisions are inevitably just around the corner.
All twelve episodes of United States of Tara: The Second Season are spread across two discs:
In my review of United States of Tara: The First Season, I noted that it was a solid program with room for improvement. While United States of Tara still isn't quite good enough to be regarded as one of the very best shows on television, some very impressive fine-tuning was done between the first and second season. Almost all of the small problems of the first season have been corrected while the strengths have been impressively retained.
Let's begin with Tara's alters, the show's central gimmick and biggest problem area. While Collette is impressively versatile in her portrayal of these assorted alter egos, the alters themselves tend to be a little thin and one-dimensional. Season two addresses this issue in two significant ways. First, the alters aren't given quite as much screen time as they were in the previous season. This both amplifies the effect when the alters appear and gives the far more nuanced Tara a greater opportunity to shine. Second, the alters that do appear actually seem to be a bit more complex this time around (including a brand-new alter that demonstrates a bit more dramatic potential than the others), particularly the gruff Buck.
The show takes great strides in developing the character of Max this season, too. While Corbett's performance has been solid from day one, Max seemed a bit too passive and cheerful during the show's first season. Surely living with Tara could grow frustrating at times, but Max rarely demonstrated the slightest glimmer of irritation. In season two, he's finally starting to crack. Max has been displaying self-control and kindness for so long that it's all starting to boil over. Watching him begin to melt under the stress is immensely compelling, and Corbett offers some darker shades in his fine performance.
United States of Tara is also noteworthy for how well it writes its teenage characters. Countless shows struggle when it comes to developing teenagers; many of them should take some notes from this program. In particular, Keir Gilchrist continues to do superb work as the conflicted Marshall. His pal Lionel (Michael J. Willet, Cougar Town) attempts to make Marshall a part of the high school's flamboyant gay clique, but Marshall finds himself uncomfortable in this setting. "All you ever talk about is sex and asses," Marshall snaps at Lionel. "You make being gay something nobody would ever want to be." Marshall, a lover of great literature and black-and-white movies, grows immensely depressed when confronted with the falsehood that being gay means embracing bitchy superficiality.
The DVD transfer is decent enough, though detail is lacking at times during long shots. Audio is similarly adequate, offering a clean, crisp, dialogue-driven track to satisfying effect. Extras are limited to a handful of very brief cast interviews and some text-based cast bios.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
Some intriguing new supporting characters are introduced in this season, but their storylines meander and then disappointingly fizzle out. Michael Hitchcock (Men of a Certain Age) and Sammy Sheik (Charlie Wilson's War) turn up as the Gregson's gay neighbors, have some good scenes and then simply disappear. Similarly, the initially compelling Viola Davis character is increasingly marginalized and finally pushed out by the time the season concludes. For all the great work done with the principle characters, some additional attention should have been put into developing this season's guest stars.
A good show gets even better in its second season. Unless Tara's alters were your favorite element of the first season, I think you'll be quite pleased with the fine-tuning that's been done.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Showtime Entertainment
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