When Showtime made the announcement not to renew United States of Tara for a fourth season I'll admit I was more than a wee bit disappointed. I really loved this series, and I was even more bothered that the announcement came in May 2011, with a month still left for season three to end its run in June, and the thought of potential cliffhangers and unfulfilled storylines seemed imminent. Thankfully season three - represented here by a two-disc set of all 12 episodes - found a way to tie off as many bows as possible, leaving fans with a woefully premature swan song, but an ultimately satisfying one nonetheless.
The show, created by polarizing firebrand Diablo Cody, follows the fractured life of Tara Gregson (Toni Collette), a woman festooned with a large number of multiple personalities. She's married to a lovingly understanding husband Max (John Corbett) and they have two children: struggling-to-come-out-of-the-closet teen Marshall (Keir Gilchrist) and moody nearly 20-year-old sprite Kate (Brie Larson). With Tara's recurring cast of personalities - or alters - consistently disrupting normal family life, the Gregsons (over the run of the series) have struggled with the root cause of her disorder amidst assorted side stories, and with season three seem to be reaching critical mass on that path of clarity, as things begin to completely devolve.
Season three introduces us to Dr. Hattaras (Eddie Izzard) a local college professor who takes a dangerous interest in Tara, and his interaction pushes the alters (including a very murderous one) into a life-and-death struggle. Hattaras is a wonderfully arrogant ass, but I expect little less from Izzard, who does this sort of shtick perfectly. As Hattaras pushes Tara into revealing some very dark things, the show itself takes these elements and avoids the oft seen rushed about-to-be-canceled wrap up, and instead does it all with apparent closure. I'm sure if the show were magically renewed Cody and/or a writing team could invent more alters-related pathos, but the way it goes works for me.
As with the previous two seasons this is Collette's show to carry, and carry it she does, proving that her season one Emmy win was not a fluke. Her ability to transform herself completely into her various alters at the drop of a hat is a treat to watch, and observing the abrupt and/or delicate shift in her mannerisms, expressions and body language shows Collette to continually be a real acting chameleon. These physical manifestations are sometimes subtle (brazen therapist Shoshanna) and sometimes bold (gun-toting nutjob Buck), and either way it is pretty remarkable to observe such dramatic personal changes. Collette fully embodies her alters, and it is really something to see.
There was some of very vocal messageboard dissension that season three began to become the "Kate" show, with a larger stage for Brie Larson to ply her plucky, quirky 20-year-old-ish daughter character front-and-center a bit more. To those naysayers I say "WTF?" because Larson's Kate is a hoot, an adorably cute wiseass with some of the most natural exasperated expressions and smarmy mumbles on television. While I'll grant you her flight attendant storyline here comes on a quickly, but Larson adds a lot to the Gregson family dynamic, and she's a standout in season three. Perhaps not as infinitely memorable as her Princess Valhalla persona from season two, but fun nonetheless. Take that, Kate-haters.
I'll miss this show greatly, but I'm pleased this final season concluded strongly so that I wasn't left with any unfinished business.
The standard def 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen transfers are decent, but really pale if you have experienced this show in HD. With that said there's a measurable loss of edge detail in long shots, though closeups do seem to fare better in the overall quality department. Some light banding is evident periodically, as are some black crush issues. On the plus side fleshtones are warm and natural throughout.
Two audio options are available, in either 2.0 stereo or 5.1 surround. Either of these rather plain jane presentations will suffice, as the show rarely delves into any aural theatrics that require a full surround experience to enjoy. Dialogue is consistently discernible and clean on both, and from a purist standpoint I'd be lying if I didn't say the 5.1 mix offers a slightly wider, more natural soundstage.
A Spanish mono track is also included.
The side-open cardboard slipcase houses two thinpak cases, each containing one disc. Showtime continues their tradition of skimpiness with the extras on United States of Tara season sets here, and for this final season it's just a set of text biographies and a photo gallery. There is, however, an insert for a $25 rebate from Showtime if you are a subscriber (offer expires 12/31/11).
The last hurrah for this fine cable series gets a satisfying wrap up (aka no dangling cliffhangers) in a barebones set from Showtime, and as much as I have loved the cast and the show I can somehow find a way to accept its premature departure. Go out - whether intentionally or not - while you're still strong, I say.
Perhaps not geared for those unfamiliar with the series, but for fans who have enjoyed the first two seasons this set comes recommended as a rental, at the very least.