The second season of The United States of Tara (Paramount), the Showtime original series created by Diablo Cody opens with Tara Gregson (Toni Collette) on new medication to keep her multiple personalities at bay. And it seems to be working… for the first few minutes of the season, anyway, until Buck, her shit-kicking male alter, starts appearing to her and demanding to be let out. And boy does he make up for lost time when he finally escapes, or rather overpowers Tara’s mind and takes his turn manning (in this case quite literally) Tara’s body for his own sordid needs, namely a one-night-stand with a knocked-around barmaid (superbly played by Joey Lauren Adams with a bruised emotionality) that turns into a longer relationship.
Season One doodled around the margins of the gimmick by giving Toni Collette opportunities to take on all sorts of personalities with varying degrees of commitment to her awfully tolerant suburban family, but the more interesting stories belonged to her snotty teenage daughter and her repressed son, characters dancing with their own issues of identity and empowerment. And the family as a whole is still more interesting than the Tara individually, especially as loving and protective husband Max (John Corbett) lets some of his own frustration out in less socially acceptable explosions of anger (one of which gets him arrested) and rebellion. But the saga of Buck’s escape from medically-induced banishment is the first step in creating a full personality for “him” (I especially enjoy the understated way he adopts the young children of the single mother, being a paternal figure in a way he could never be with Tara’s family) and making Tara more interesting in her response to this crack in her recovery.
There’s more to Tara’s journey, of course, as the rest of the alters (as the personalities of her dissociative identity disorder, or DID, are referred to) demand equal time and a new identity is born in response to Tara’s needs. And the rest of the family members are still struggling with their own identities and needs and aspirations, including Tara’s sister Charmaine (Rosemarie DeWitt), who manages to get past her issues with Tara when they bond over a common betrayal by their mother, a suppressed part of their lives dredged up by dreams, flashes of memory and, yes, yet another alter identity. For all the sitcom-on-meds complications, they are remarkably functional and supportive, not quite as honest a portrait as the show demands but still the most interesting part of an entertaining but inconsistent show. Pieces of it are terrific, but Cody’s design keeps smoothing over those jagged, troubling moments with conventional narrative resignation. Maybe she’d be more daring with some of Nurse Jackie’s self-medication.
Also new this week: A Charlie Brown Valentine (Warner) and Jersey Shore Uncensored: Season Two (Paramount).