Why Jordi Kerr adores… UNITED STATES OF TARA

17 Sep

Welcome back to WHY I ADORE…, where we encourage folks from all around — be you a writer, or not a writer, or a filmmaker, an artist, a domestic (y’know, like Magenta from THE ROCKY HORROR PICTURE SHOW), a critic, an armchair critic, or someone who just loves to talk about film — to pen a love letter to whatever film or TV object of brilliance you choose! It can be a film, TV show, episode, scene, shot, actor, director, screenwriter, producer, cinematographer, editor, stuntman, studio, phase of career, period of time… anything you like, as long as it’s from film or TV. With the internet at large overdosing on snark and painful “irony”, WHY I ADORE… is an antidote to all that. It’s a place where you can love the hell out of something/someone without killjoys shouting you down or taking the piss.

If you want to contribute your expression of filmic/televisual love to WHY I ADORE…, just email me your contribution to whyiadore@gmail.com! Keep it under 2500 words, include pics if you like, and don’t hold back! Send ’em through now, all are welcome!

Today’s Adorer is whimsical wordsmith JORDI KERR, a freelance writer/screenwriter who has penned everything from articles and reviews for magazines/newspapers, to episode synopses for TV shows on DVD! Find out more about her at her website, right here! Jordi is about to rock us with her love for another gem from what I’ve long termed “The Greatest Television Network in the History of the World”, HBO, anchored by one of our very best acting exports…

…times four.


I adore UNITED STATES OF TARA, from its paper pop-up book opening credits, to its bass-pumping closing credits.* It’s what’s got me talking at parties, whispering down office corridors and badgering my loved ones. (We’re talking serious levels of badgering here – my partner knows all twenty-four episodes of the show, despite having only seen a quarter of them.)

For those of you that never stray near the ABC, missed the 2009 Emmys, the 2010 Golden Globes, and the awe-inspired hype of the dearly devoted, UNITED STATES OF TARA is the tangled tale of Tara Gregson (Toni Collette) trying to manage her Disassociative Identity Disorder (DID — new language on the block for Multiple Personality Disorder), and its effects on her family – husband Max (John Corbett), children Kate (Brie Larson) and Marshall (Keir Gilchrist), and sister Charmaine (Rosemarie DeWitt). It is the brain-child of Diablo Cody (of JUNO fame), and counts Steven Spielberg among its Executive Producers. If that isn’t enough to piqué your curiosity and get thee to the DVD store**, read on for my three key TARA adoration factors.

1. Toni Collette’s acting ability.

Starting with the obvious, the source of most of the awards for TARA – Collette as a DID sufferer is a master of body language and linguistics. The woman is able to swing from “regular” Mum, wife and artist, Tara, who’s just trying to hold it all together, into the 16 year old trash-talking, inhibition-free T; the 1950s Southern housewife Alice; and the beer-swillin’, crotch-scratchin’, Vietnam veteran, Buck. And that’s just Season 1.

In my younger years I was impressed by the acting scope found in such flicks as Double Switch and Freaky Friday. With Tara, you’d better hold onto your Xanax, because it will fuck you sideways.

2. The humour.

TARA is packed with quips that sting with wit and irreverence, just the way I like. For example, during the family meeting following a public-outburst by Tara’s alters, the disgraced and increasingly drunk Charmaine contributes this to the discussion:

Charmaine: Well this is fantastic. Tara thinks she’s a rottweiler or something. Congratulations, Marshall, you finally got that dog you always wanted.

Marshall: Shut up.

Kate: Dad, can you please install a lock on my door. I just realised that I don’t want Mom to come in and pee on me.

Max: She’s not going to pee on you.

Charmaine: No, not if you walk her regularly.

(Season 1, Episode 10: ‘Betrayal’)

Teen daughter Kate (think Daria sarcasm with Quinn attitude) gets a lot of the one liners…

‘Why can’t Mom be manic-depressive like all the other Moms?’

…And they’ve got Patton Oswalt as secondary character Neil, for Chrissake.

As well as the verbal, there’s also the visual. From the pleasure of seeing Toni Collette in drag as Buck, to the appearance of a new alter in Season 2, TARA is teeming with sights that make me smile.

One of my favourite visual gags happens when Buck makes an unexpected appearance before Max and Marshall:

Max (to Buck): You’re not going to the gun range without us. That’s our guy thing – us three.

Cut to:

3. The ballsy script.

This is where Tara really pounds my heart into gravel. It, more than any other TV show, has amazed me. (And yes, I am including the big guns – like DOCTOR WHO and MAD MEN – in that comparison.) As someone with more than a passing interest in scriptwriting, I usually find it very easy to guess where a story is going. Not so with TARA. There is a particular point at the end of Season 2, Episode 10, where the appearance and actions of an alter, backed by the rocking beats of Florence + The Machine, made me gasp – complete hands-to-mouth astonishment. I can’t name any other tv show that has inspired this kind of physical response in me.

TARA is not afraid to show a family in crisis. It is not afraid to show people at their worst, and also at their best, without delving into the sappy or the trite. It is peppered with pill-popping, dope-smoking, cunt-munching and fist-thumping – and it balances this with the grace to show Tara as a character that is the sum of all her parts, neither victim nor survivor of mental illness.

If you like your drama seasoned with comedy and mystery, stalwart with fine acting, you’re in luck – the therapist is in.

(In Australia, TARA screens Wednesdays on ABC1 at 9.30pm.)

*In particular, note the use of the Eels’ Love of the Loveless in the credits of both the pilot episode, and the Season 1 finale.

**An online store at any rate – so far Season 1 of TARA has only had a DVD release in Region 1.

– Jordi Kerr

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One Response to “Why Jordi Kerr adores… UNITED STATES OF TARA”

  1. genevieve April 9, 2011 at 3:26 pm #

    It is an astonishing show, and I do appreciate the brevity. I think the writers have set themselves a task using that unity of time rule, and boy do they get to work.
    I have found it almost cathartic, can really identify with the insularity of the family, with the heat in the kitchen, I suppose. I have never signed off on an episode thinking, ‘oh, that’s too much’ – so often people in real trouble in real life live juggling, walk right on that knife edge at least 70% of the time, which means you spend the other 30% in recovery.
    ‘I know we’ll be fine if we learn to love the ride…’

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