The Anti-Cult of Personality:
The Controlled Chaos of United States of Tara
When it was first announced, there was one word that could best described United States of Tara, the new Showtime comedy starring Toni Colette: quirky. Not only was it about a woman who has multiple personality disorder, and as a result becomes various different people depending on the situation, but it comes from Diablo Cody, the Oscar-winning but divisive writer whose work has been attacked for being too precious, too desperate to be bizarre that she was losing sight of what is realistic.
But in my opinion the skepticism about this was was unfounded: yes, the concept is quirky, and Cody’s dialogue is present albeit in a less obvious form than the earlier scenes in Juno, but there is a real sense of control here. The family at the show’s center is not a quirky family so much as it is a normal one who is forced to maintain that normality by controlling their reactions to the matriarchal struggles of our protagonist. The appearance of the various alters, whether it’s male vietnam war veteran Buck, teenaged T., or the 50s housewife Alice, is not a sudden shock to this family but rather something they have learned to deal with. Each of the alters have their own benefits and downsides within their family dynamic, and the point is not that this is a crazy or quirky show but rather that these people have to try to maintain normal lives in the face of those struggles.
There is a danger here that the show will become all about these wacky alters, and the craziness they represent, but the show isn’t fixated on them so much as it is on Tara, her life, and the reasons these alters emerge. It’s not a concept that would work if it was entirely let loose, or with a lead actress who isn’t able to pull off four separate characters, but through the strong setup and some great work from Toni Colette it’s hard not to be drawn into the United States of Tara.
Last night, the 2008 Golden Globes were a ludicrous and fascinating experiment of NBC’s incompetence (Sepinwall tears them a new one here) and a sense that what we were watching was memorable not due to any of the winners but rather because it was just difficult to watch. I tried to LiveBlog it, which was a horrible mistake in every possible way, but it did get me thinking about something.
You see, usually we consider the concepts of Winners and Losers in terms of who won awards, but that really isn’t the question here. The real concern is that by not airing the awards, some of the Golden Globes buzz which could benefit these performers in their future award races or in their future ratings/DVD sales. The lack of hoopla actually hurt some of the winners, dampening the effect of what would have been an entertaining surprise victory.
So let’s look at a bit of an unconventional concept of “winners” and “Losers” after last night’s intriguing events.
Winner – 30 Rock
Yes, it lost Best Comedy Series. And yes, it also ludicrously lost Best Actor in a Comedy Series when David Duchovony beat Alec Baldwin. But Tina Fey’s victory shows that an American-made, New York shot comedy series with little to no connection to the international markets (Although Interrogation Bear might differ) is capable of winning even when it’s not Alec Baldwin, which may end up as all of the respect that the HFPA has to give.
Loser – Mad Men
I would have paid money to see the stunned reaction of the partying attendees to Jon Hamm’s win as Best Actor in a Drama Series, but instead we got Billy Bush’s quip about how it was humorous for an actor to have the name “Hamm.” The impact was entirely gone – it was a great endnote for critics and those who enjoy fine television, but the general population will easily shrug off both Hamm’s win and the series’ eventual triumph in Best Drama Series. Still, this is a qualified sense of loser – it’s a winner in my mind, certainly.