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united states of tara series finale

United States of Tara finished its run last Monday night. Three seasons isn’t a lot, but Showtime has a history of letting series go long past their sell-by date, and since in this case, Season Three was as good or better than the other two, Tara goes out on a high note. This is very rare for Showtime (see Queer as Folk, L Word, Nurse Jackie, Weeds, Dexter).

Tara was never a great show, and it was often annoying. But even more often, it was a very good show. This, perhaps, is a boilerplate for describing the work of Diablo Cody: not great, often annoying, but also very good. The B-storylines were, for the most part, nicely integrated, although they never really figured out what to do with Brie Larson as the daughter (Larson was fine, but the part wasn’t much). Keir Gilchrist (who made his debut in a bit part on an episode of Queer as Folk) was particularly fine as the gay son. John Corbett, Rosemarie DeWitt, Patton Oswalt … all good actors, and they all did well, as did Eddie Izzard in the third season.

But since this was a show about a woman with multiple personalities (dissociative identity disorder), it was going to stand or fall on the shoulders of the actress who played Tara. Toni Collette hit it out of the park each week, picking up at least one Emmy in the process. Of course, multiple personalities are made for awards, but Collette overcame that obstacle. Each of her “alters” had a distinct personality, and Collette managed to show the switches from one alter to another without seeming fake about it. In the first season, it felt at times like Tara was partly there for comic relief, but by the third season, the burden (on Tara, and on her family) was darker. (Not that there weren’t funny parts even in the last season, as when the most destructive of her alters, Bryce Craine, repeatedly stabs the poncho of a fellow alter … not funny, I know, except that all the while, Bryce is wearing a pumpkin that had been carved as a jack-o-lantern.)

United States of Tara was too erratic to rank with the best series, yet in an odd way it was also comfortably consistent, in that you always knew Collette and company would deliver. The finale was nicely played … it was made before they knew the show was being cancelled, but it worked as a last episode, just the same. And while I would have happily watched another season, 36 episodes is enough. Grade for finale: A-. Grade for series: B+.

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