My fairly light-hearted post on early learning, for instance, sparked a little rage: “It’s All Fun and Games, Pal, until Someone’s Child Injects Themselves with Autism!” and “How Dare you JOKE about Penises!”
So I hesitate to admit that last night I stumbled upon The United States of Tara, the latest venture by Diablo Cody (Juno), and found it hilarious and moving. Produced by Steven Spielberg for Showtime, the show takes a Kansas woman’s struggles with dissociative identity disorder (DID) as the premise of a half-hour comic drama.
While there are many broad (and implausible) strokes about living with mental illness here, the show charms by emphasizing authentic emotions in a family and high-school web of relationships reminiscent of Judd Apatow’s brilliant-but-cancelled high-school-in-1980 comedy-drama Freaks and Geeks (1999).
If you never saw the Apatow series—I hadn’t until my colleague Michelle Burnham lent me all 18 episodes last summer—how can you tell if you’ll like US Tara? Well, join the half-million others who’ve already screened the pilot on YouTube. (Pointing to the series’ likely success but also an interesting evolution of streaming media’s role in convergence culture.)
In addition to the writing, the series is cannily done from set dressing and wardrobe to cast—featuring Toni Collette as Tara and John Corbett (Aidan from Sex and the City) as her sweet, earnest husband. Tara’s daughter is having “sweaty, skanky teen sex” with a goth pretender who pushes her around; her son likes jazz and baking.
One of Tara’s “alters” pees in the men’s room, picks a fight with the daughter’s abusive boyfriend, and taunts her son. Another alter is a fifteen-year-old girl who smokes dope and acts out her sexuality, playing companion and friendly competitor to Tara’s daughter, shopping for “porno” makeup and “hot clothes that make us look insecure”:
Daughter: You’re my favorite of all the alters! (embraces Tara)
Tara: (pulls away) Eww, drugs, not hugs!
In the pilot at least, the alters sometimes come on like super-heros from a very responsive Justice League. “Someone pushing your daughter around? Here comes Bully Country Dude!”
You don’t have to be a mental health professional or living with mental illness yourself to find the DID representations a bit, well, Spielbergian. But if you can get over that, it’s worth your time.
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