This morning, I was having a conversation with another TV critic who had just finished watching the third season of “United States of Tara,” and we came to two conclusions:
1)As great as this season of the show has been (the 9th of 12 episodes airs tonight at 10:30), it was going to be very hard for the show to both top it and keep telling interesting stories about the characters, given how the rest of the season plays out. And given that, maybe it might be for the best if the show ended after this season.
2)If Showtime canceled “Tara” and renewed “Nurse Jackie,” we were going to be very, very unhappy.
Guess what just happened this afternoon, boys and girls?
Yup, “Jackie” (a show that, like most other Showtime series, is content to repeat its formula over and over, ad nauseum, with no significant consequences for its characters or changes to its overall structure) lives, while “Tara” (a show that, whatever its flaws have been, is willing to try new things and take its characters to new places) dies. (The final episodes will air over the next month, but that’s it.)
Again, in a vacuum, I could be okay with the end of “Tara” in a “live fast, die young, leave a good-looking corpse” kinda way. We can discuss this more in about a few weeks when what will now be the series finale airs, but it’s one of those episodes (like the “Deadwood” season 3 finale) that may not have been planned as a series-ender but that works kind of brilliantly as one. I’d rather the show tell an interesting story, tell it well, and get off the stage before it starts to repeat itself in the way that far, far too many TV shows do in the name of staying on the air at all costs.
But to have the news come on the day that Showtime decides to keep around the maddeningly repetitive adventures of a woman and show that both refuse to learn or change in any way? Ugh.
I recognize that, while neither show has a particularly big audience, “Tara” has an even more pitifully small one than “Jackie,” and that a channel like Showtime gets some cachet out of keeping around a multiple Emmy winner (including one win for this role) in Edie Falco. But this decision speaks to everything that has frustrated me about Showtime in the last few years – to the kind of creative calcification that keeps shows like “Jackie” and “Dexter” running in place for season after season. (Like I said in my pre-season piece on “Jackie” and “Tara,” Showtime has become the pay cable version of corporate sibling CBS, content to repackage the same formula over and over again, even if it’s a slightly different formula than you can find on network TV.)
Rest in peace, “United States of Tara.” It was a hell of a run, and the few people still watching have a lot of cool stuff in store over the next month. And if Showtime doesn’t want you around anymore, that may be for the best.
UPDATE: I asked Diablo Cody for a reaction to the cancellation, and she wrote: “You know, It was an incredible experience — I couldn’t have asked for a more amazing introduction into the world of television, and I thought we did some fantastic work. Toni’s performance is forever. I feel like it’s the end of a family, but at least we can all be proud of what we did.”