‘United States of Tara’ – ‘The Electrifying & Magnanimous Return of Beaverlamp’: Max and his axe

A review of tonight’s “United States of Tara” coming up just as soon as I veer from hipster rocker straight into disco homo…

“You are the best fucking decision we ever made, and I’d do it again in a second. Interview over.” -Max

Though “United States of Tara” fits a sitcom timeslot, more and more this season the show has veered away from its comedy roots to become a straight-up drama with isolated bits of comedy. Rarely has that transition been more apparent than in the elaborately-titled “The Electrifying & Magnanimous Return of Beaverlamp,” which not only went to some very dark places, but managed to squeeze a whole ton of plot(*) into under 30 minutes of running time without seeming overly busy.

(*) There was probably more story in this one than in, say, last night’s episode of “The Killing.”

Kate’s flirtation with air commuter Evan takes several big steps forward, and Brie Larson develops a nice chemistry with Keir O’Donnell (from ABC’s short-lived “My Generation”) in the process. Dr. Hatteras’ professional reputation takes a very bad turn when his celebrity patient returns to the belief that he’s a kite and leaps off a roof to prove it. Buck confronts Hatteras and in the process of that scene and the climactic scene where Tara’s mysterious new alter starts cutting on her arm, we get the sense that something very bad is going on inside Tara’s head right now.

And in the week’s most compelling story for me, Marshall realizes that the subject of his film shouldn’t be Tara, but “Max Gregson: the man who fell in love with that.”

Tara’s the show’s central character and its reason for existing, but in some ways she’s a more static, less interesting figure than the rest of the Gregsons and Charmaine. Tara can explore the root causes of her condition, can try different treatments and arrangements with the alters, but as even Hatteras admits to Max, “I can medicate it, I can give it a few years, but the truth is, it is never going to get any better – ever.”

But the way Tara’s loved ones respond to her – their history with her and her condition, and how living alongside Buck and Alice and the rest have shaped their lives – is an ever-changing thing. And as Tara’s husband – the man who fell in love with that, married it and decided to have multiple kids with it – nobody’s had to change more and make more allowances than Max. Focusing his film on his father not only gives Marshall a central character he can more easily empathize with, but gives the show an excuse to delve into these important Max/Tara origin story questions. We learn that Kate wasn’t planned at a time they were just really learning about Tara’s condition, but that Marshall was, and Marshall gets to ask the tough but not wholly unfair question about whether he was conceived to help Max deal with his crazy wife. A really strong scene for both John Corbett and Keir Gilchrist, and if Marshall’s not the sweet, likable kid he was at the start of the series, we’re starting to see just how he’s grown to be this cold and angry.

And yet even in the middle of a mostly dark episode, there was room for the light, fun, magnanimous return of Beaverlamp, giving Corbett his second opportunity this spring (after his “Parenthood”) stint to play fake TV rocker. That was an entertaining, almost necessary subplot given what else was going on, and provided good material for Max, Charmaine (lamenting an alternate reality where she was a roadie for Counting Crows) and Ted, among others.

What did everybody else think? And now that we’re into the back half of season 3, how are you feeling about what the show’s up to?