Iowa Alumni Magazine | April 2009 | Reviews

Alter Egos

By IAM Staff

Showtime's newest hit series, United States of Tara, follows the ups and downs of a dysfunctional family that includes a roaring redneck, a happy homemaker, and a teenage temptress. And that's just one person.

Meet Tara, a wife and working mother with dissociative identity disorder (formerly known as multiple personality disorder). On the surface, Tara—played by Toni Collette—seems like the typical Midwestern mom, trying hard to balance her career with the monumental task of parenting hormonal teenagers. When the stresses of everyday life become too much to bear, though, Tara becomes someone else.

Though the subject matter sounds serious, this half-hour show is actually a quirky family comedy. Created and written by former UI communications studies major Diablo Cody, 00BA, United States of Tara uses the same snark-plus-heart formula that won the Iowa grad an Oscar for Juno. This mature-rated series pulls no punches, but treats Tara's illness with compassion. Cody and executive producer Steven Spielberg hired a doctor who specializes in dissociative identity disorder to act as the show's consultant.

Tara has quit her medication, so when stress carries her away, the "alters" come out to play. Her alter egos, each with their own names and distinct personalities, show up at opportune moments: the trashy teenager T chats with Tara's daughter, Kate, about clothes and sex; biker Buck beats up Kate's loser boyfriend; and '50s housewife Alice sits in on the parent-teacher conference for Tara's son, Marshall.

While the archetypal alter egos may provide the show's comic relief, they also bring Tara plenty of pain. Thankfully, with the exception of her skeptical sister, Tara has an understanding family fronted by her easygoing husband, Max, played by John Corbett. At times, Tara's son and daughter are concerned about what their neighbors or friends think of their mother's metamorphoses, but no more than the average teenager tends to be embarrassed by Mom. They treat T, Alice, and Buck as part of the family, distinguish the alters from their mom, and give Tara debriefings to help her remember what happens when her illness takes control.

"We're lucky, Mom," Marshall says in the premiere episode. "Because of you, we get to be interesting."