Tuesday, May 24, 2011

United States of Tara and Learning to Feel (Terrible) Again

So, that happened. And it sucked. I've talked about my love for United States of Tara around here before, but I'm not sure how much I've talked about not just it's greatness as a TV show rather than the simple fact that I just might love it more than any other show on TV. I think that part snuck up on me.

I've been writing about TV shows in this meager blog capacity for about six years now, and in a semi-professional capacity elsewhere for about five. I know how TV works. I stuck up for ABC when they cancelled Pushing Daisies and for FOX when they cancelled Lone Star. Hell, I'll stick up for Showtime now -- it's a business, and probably better to free up next spring's Tara time slot with something that has a chance to become a hit. But I also figured I'd learned to watch these shows from a distance -- if not a professional distance than at least from a distance that says "I know my taste is not universal. I'm happy that my taste and the public's overlap long enough for me to get a few great seasons out of something I love." I didn't shout over Arrested Development or cry over Deadwood or send a single "fuck you" FX's way when Terriers went away after one near-perfect season. And when Fringe goes away next spring (touch wood it gets a full season), I'll say we were fortunate to get four seasons of fucking delightful weirdness out of a broadcast network.

I was so sure in my detachment that I had some fun at Mark and Adam's expense a few weeks ago when The Event and V were cancelled. In my defense, a) those were terrible shows, and b) they didn't have a prayer of getting renewed. I even said that I feared no karmic blowback since all the shows I really cared about (Justified, Fringe, Parks and Rec) had already been renewed, which now seems like so much karmic stepping-in-it. Sorry, Diablo Cody and Toni Collette and John Corbett -- this one's on me.

The super-great Christopher Rosen at Movieline wrote a piece on his blog yesterday about the year anniversary of the end of Lost and how, while he's loved shows like Mad Men and Parks and Recreation since then, he hasn't truly, viscerally cared about a show since Lost. I thought the same thing, save for swapping out Lost for Battlestar Galactica. So it came as a bit of a surprise to me this afternoon, and especially tonight as I watched what is now the fourth-to-last episode ever, that United States of Tara is that show for me. Beyond the fact that I think it's a great show, the bottom line is that I've fallen for these characters. Tara, whose demons and afflictions can't help but make her a burden to the people she loves the most. Marshall, desperately trying to hold it together all while being such an achingly relatable gay teenager I could die, repeatedly, every week. Charmaine, who is so awful for such frustratingly recognizable reasons. Aimless Kate, who manages to be the rare TV teen to actually mature. Even put-upon, saintly Max. I ended up loving all of them, and now I've set myself up for a situation where in a month's time, I'm going to have to do that thing where I get actually, demonstrably sad when the pretend TV people go away.

While I'm at it, having just watched episode 3.9, "Bryce Will Play," might as well talk about that specifically:

1) People have talked about the "dark" streak in this show -- for a lot of them it's why they like the show -- but this is the first episode of the series that's felt actually malevolent in tone. It's fitting for the Bryce alter. I like the notion that drugged-up Tara gives, that Bryce might be her DID way of getting rid of the other alters to whom, much as they tend to fuck up her life, she's become too attached to abolish herself. Toni Collette (who, I'll say again since I guess I won't have too many more chances, earned every bit of that Best Actress in a Comedy Emmy, no matter how many hair-splitting comedians bitch about her not being a comedic actress) is just fantastically creepy as Bryce, and the scenes where Gimmie's parka is stabbed to death and Hatteras is nearly crabbed to death are both morbidly funny (the pumpkin head) and genuinely frightening.

2) I am just so deeply sad that we're probably not going to get to see Marshall emerge from what is a totally understandable but still hard-to-watch-him-go-through-it moody teenage crisis. The scene with him and Max after the film screening was great and cathartic and even-handed, but I can't shake the feeling that Season 3 was the designated "Marshall hits bottom" year, and we won't get to see him boomerang next year. Seriously, casting people, do not let the gift of Keir Gilchrist go to waste.

3) Up until this episode, I liked Eddie Izzard's performance just fine but wasn't writing songs about it. This week, he picked up a good chunk of the storyline and put it on his very capable shoulders. I look forward to seeing him play delightful pompous asses in many other future projects.

4) I like that Tara is keeping the worst from Katie and Charmaine and Max and Marshall, both out of shame and also a desire to protect them. Of course, after that brilliant moment where Bryce re-introduced himself to Charmy, I'm doubting that lasts long.

Three more episodes! You guys! I know the very fact that it's getting cancelled means there aren't very many of you out there who are feeling what I'm feeling, but thanks for indulging me anyway.

Gregsons 4-eva!


Couch Baron said...

Joe, you know how much I'm with you on this. And one thing I realized after reading your post is how scared I am for the remaining alters. I actually care about what happens to Buck, Alice, and even T.! It's terrifying, what Bryce might do to them! How I'm going to miss this one.

WeepingSponge said...

Your post pretty much said it all, just wanted to add that while I never really loved Kate as much as I did the others, I appreciate that they put her in some interesting situations instead of the usual teenage girl claptrap. Also I was amazed at how I found myself liking Lionel a little bit more every episode, until he finally broke me when he told Marshall what really happened on his cruising date. You won't be the only one missing this show.

Joe Reid said...

Lionel! I didn't mention it because he wasn't in this week's episode, but I was talking on Twitter a few weeks ago about what a damned brilliant job Michael J. Willet has done playing Lionel, a character we're constantly set up to loathe under the usual constructs (he's strident and snide and too cool for life), but whom I've come to love intensely (imagine that). That scene with him and Marshall in the car a few episodes ago just murdered me.