With only 12 30 minute episodes, it's easy for United States of Tara to fill up its first season. There's Tara (Toni Collette) and husband Max (John Corbett), with kids Kate (Brie Larson) and Marshall (Keir Gilchrist), along with Tara's sister Charmaine (Rosemarie DeWitt) and Max's buddy Neil (Patton Oswalt). That covers all the actors, but not all the characters. Tara also has three identities that are introduced throughout the season. In the first episode we meet T, an immature 16 year old personality. Next we meet Buck, a brash and vulgar Vietnam vet. Alice, in the third episode, is a proper English housewife. These personalities are protection for Tara. T shows up when Tara can't relate to her kids. The show opens with Tara revealing she found Kate's birth control before she transitions into T. Buck is Tara's way of defending herself when she feels threatened. He first arrives when Tara sees Kate pushed by a boy. Alice surfaces when Tara is deficient as a wife and mother.
It will be interesting to see where this show goes. The episodes could easily be formulaic once the show gets past the newness of Tara's disassociative identity disorder. Tara starts off OK. Then something brings out one of her personalities. Finally her loving family helps bring her back. As to the long term plot arc, the show could go in a couple of directions. Will Tara beat her illness all at once, only to have it come back? Or will she vanquish her personalities one by one?
The best thing United States of Tara has going for it is the Gregson family. I really like them. Max stands by Tara, but he's not perfect. He snaps at her because it would be impossible not to. He's a good person but a real person, and he has a breaking point. My favorite moment of the season is the season finale when the family returns from a particularly demoralizing experience. Max realizes they are mindlessly eating dinner at the table. He basically says, "Screw this. Get up, everyone, we're going bowling." Kate is a snotty, sarcastic teenage girl, but she cares deeply for her family beneath the veneer of that personality. "Moush", as Kate affectionately calls her brother, is a shy, well behaved teen, slowly coming out of his shell (and the closet). Charmaine's complaining is annoying. She's always at odds with her sister, whose illness she feels always interrupts her life. Along with that sibling rivalry though, is a deep loyalty resulting from something painful in their childhood. Unraveling that mystery looks to be a staple of late season episodes as long as United States of Tara lasts. And don't forget Patton Oswalt's Neil. He's absolutely hilarious.