United States of Tara, “Department of F***ed-Up Family Services”: Gimme some more help!

Senior Television Writer
05.04.10 27 Comments

Jordin Althaus/Showtime

A review of last night’s “United States of Tara” coming up just as soon as I get to a predicate…

“Because our mother’s disease is going to bury us all!” -Marshall

“Department of Fucked-Up Family Services” climaxes with a plot device that wouldn’t feel out of place in a sitcom from 40 years ago, with Charmaine posing as Tara to fool the inspector and paint a picture of a happy, functional Gregson clan while Tara herself is running around as the feral Gimme. (In fact, I’m pretty sure this was a “Bewitched” plot at some point or other.) But because the “Tara” creative team never strays far from the real pain at the family’s center – here with Marshall unloading on the entire family, climaxing with the brutally honest line above – it can get away with moments like that. Charmaine filling in for Tara isn’t so much a joke as a relief. The show has laughs at times with Gimme and Alice and the other alters, but at heart this is a huge burden not only on Tara, but her husband and sister and kids. She needs help, they need help, and while the inspector might have caused major problems for the family if he had met the real Tara, fact is the Gregsons are in dire need of assistance from someone.

In addition to driving another wedge between Tara and Max, here with Tara bonding more with Lynda, this episode also finally gave us a big ol’ clue about why the alters re-emerged almost immediately after Tara entered the Hubbard house, as Tara wakes up from her post-tornado walk beside Hubbard’s tombstone, and later discovers a painting of the guy(*) in her garage. While Hubbard couldn’t have played a role in the trauma that caused Tara’s DID, it would appear he had a relationship going with one of Tara’s alters(**) – perhaps one we haven’t met yet?

(*) The shot of Hubbard in the previouslies at first struck me as one I had never seen before, but in looking through a few episode guides, I see that the character appeared briefly in last season’s “Transitions,” the episode where Tara and Charmaine’s parents came to visit.

(**) I gather both from some of Diablo Cody’s pre-season comments and from Alice’s reference here to T living on the streets of Seattle that we shouldn’t expect to see T again for a while, if ever. And I’m okay with that, as she was always the least interesting alter to me. 

Though Kate’s story (here with her preparing to essentially prostitute herself for cool swag) continues to be out of sync with the rest of the show, I liked how the other two storylines balanced laughter and pathos. Charmaine keeps trying to act like being pregnant with Neil’s baby isn’t a big deal, even though she, Max and Neil all know it is (Patton Oswalt’s reaction to Charmaine asking, “Do you know how hard it is to plan a wedding?” was priceless.)

And while Courtney’s refusal to break up with Marshall is mostly being played for yuks, it’s obvious how much discomfort this is causing him, too. Teenagers are weird about sexuality in general, and Marshall’s struggling in particular to accept and embrace that he’s gay, and this crazy girl isn’t helping that at all (even if she’s providing plenty of entertainment for drama-loving Lionel).

Another strong episode of what’s turning out to be a strong sophomore season for “Tara.”

What did everybody else think?

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