In a small town in Kansas, Tara Gregson (Toni Collette, Little Miss Sunshine) lives in bits and pieces. Having a dissociative identity disorder will do that to you. When one of her several alternate personalities aren't in control of her body, she's mother of two: snarky, fast-talking Kate (Brie Larson, Scott Pilgrim vs. the World) and the sexually undetermined Marshall (Keir Gilchrist, It's Kind of a Funny Story). And although Tara's sister Charmaine (Rosemarie DeWitt, Rachel Getting Married) is not rockin' the multiple personalities, she is, nevertheless, often afflicted with an advanced case of self-centeredness. With how crazy Tara's life is, she's lucky to be grounded with supportive husband Max (John Corbett, Sex and the City), who cleans up the inevitable messes that come from their dysfunctional lives.
Season Two of United States of Tara with its 12 episodes starts off pleasant. The kids are doing well, and Max's busy with his landscaping business, Charmaine's engaged, and Tara's on a new medication regime that seems to be working. In fact, she hasn't transitioned (a phrase they use to mean changing personalities) in three months. But after the Gregson's neighbor commits suicide, Tara's personalities return, including new alter Shoshanna. However, the new addition seems to have a higher purpose: therapy. Tara creates Shoshanna as her new therapist.
Shoshanna helps Tara access some memories from her childhood, which are cryptic and confusing but could lead to some breakthroughs in why she created alternate personalities. Tara spends much of the season trying to unlock what the memories mean, so that she can hopefully integrate all of her personalities. One of the ways that Tara explores those memories is through her art, facilitated in some way, by Kate. In her new position as a debt collector, Kate sets her sights on the debts incurred by Lynda P. Frazier (Viola Davis, Eat Pray Love). Lynda turns out to be an artist, and since Kate starts spending a lot of time with her, Tara meets her and they connect on an artistic, spiritual level.
A large portion of the season seems to have a common theme: confusion. Along with Tara's confusion over what she remembers, Kate is confused about what she wants out of life--can she make money online by complying with odd requests from geeks and other skeezy guys? Marshall is just plain confused--is he gay, bisexual, or a new category altogether? Max, who has always been so supportive, is confused about whether he can continue being the rock in his and Tara's relationship. Lastly, Charmaine is confused about what to do with her love life, since she has feelings for Neil (Patton Oswalt, Caprica) but is engaged to someone else.
By the time I started watching this show on TV, I had missed the first season. So it's a good sign that after seeing Season two, I was clamoring for more and watched the first season. Having seen both seasons now, I think the second just pulls you in deeper to Tara's story, in a good way. For me, Tara's personalities are so clearly defined, that I nearly forget they're all played by the same actress. I guess it's no surprise then that Collette won an Emmy for Season One.
In season one, Tara explores a sexual assault, which many thought was the root cause for her identity disorder. After it turned out not to be the case, I've been hanging on to discover the real reason. Oddly, though, for as dysfunctional as the family is, Kate, Marshall, Max, and Charmaine are all protective of Tara, even as they realize they have their own lives to lead.
The episodes are presented in 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen, consistent with their original broadcast format. There is not too much revelatory material in the presentation, blacks tend to crush a little bit but the image looks fine without much tweaking done to it. Edge enhancement isn't too noticeable and it's your standard television watching fare.
You have got your choice of a 5.1 and 2.0 surround tracks, but either one should suit you fine. The show's mainly dialogue-driven so everything mostly happens up front and sounds clear, requiring little user adjustment. There is a scene or two when the subwoofer pokes his head into the wilderness but otherwise this is solid listening.
I'm not sure how Showtime packages its other series, but I was disappointed with the lack of extras here. The only extras are on disc two of this two-disc set and include "Chats with the Cast," biographies of major players including cast and creators, as well as a photo gallery.
The longest extra at 34 minutes, "Chats with the Cast," checks in with series creator and sometimes writer Diablo Cody (Juno), and the cast as they discuss their story arcs, the differences between season one and two, and what keeps them passionate about the show in the new season. Gilchrist did make an interesting comment about Season Two versus Season One. He said that in Season Two, it seems like Tara's alters take care of the family. For Collette, she's quite happy in her role, saying that she's in a luxurious position being able to play so many different characters. Lastly, a valuable comment from Cody, who suggests that in many ways, the Hubbard house (the home of the suicide victim), could be seen as an alter for the Gregson house.
The biographies included cover the major cast members as well as Cody and executive producer Steven Spielberg and are nothing more than a basic narrative of their major accomplishments. Meanwhile, the even lamer photo gallery features about 10 photos of the set ups for various scenes. The only way I could possibly think this would be cool would be if you're interested in how the crew sets up their shots.
The concept of the show is important, but what I really want out of a show is good, developed characters, and United States of Tara provides that and then some. You're legitimately pulling for these people to stick together and make things work. You feel like the answer to Tara's problem is just around the corner, and while you're waiting, there's no harm in hanging out and seeing what trouble these characters get into. It's a pretty fun time.