I’ve written before that, for me, the least interesting thing about the Showtime series United States of Tara is Tara’s multiple personality disorder. As gimmicks go, I guess it’s an okay one, especially when you have a chameleon like Toni Collette in your lead role. But my eyes still glaze over whenever she "transforms."
No, what kept me watching the show was its supporting cast, easily as multi-dimensional as Tara, especially gay teen nerd Marshall (Keir Gilchrist), who felt like something genuinely fresh, especially the fact that there was no "coming out" angst surrounding him. Been there, done that.
Marshall was out from the beginning of the show, and the family completely accepted him (with some manner of teasing, naturally).
His character arc last season — having to deal with the unique pressures of being a gay teen while also having to deal with a mentally ill mom who sucks up all the attention — struck me as fascinating.
And I loved how Marshall finally lost it after one of Tara’s "alters" hit on the object of his crush. He literally almost burned down the house.
Now the show is back for its second season, premiering Monday, March 22nd, and it’s going gay in a big, big way.
First, there’s a new gay couple living next door. It’s not clear where the show is going with the characters in the two episodes made available for preview by the network, but they’re nice additions.
Meanwhile, one of Tara’s alters — Buck, naturally — has a lesbian
fling (with Chasing Amy‘s completely underrated Joey Lauren Adams). Or is it "lesbian," since Buck sees himself as a man? That’s for
our sisters over at AfterEllen.com to decide.
But what’s really interesting about the season is Marshall’s storyline, which doesn’t go where I thought it would at all.
Marshall has a new female "straight ally or whatever"
Marshall has always been out at home, but now he has to decide how exactly he wants to be out at school — whether or not he wants to sit at the "gayble" (the lunch table for openly gay students). But this puts Marshall in direct conflict with Lionel, an "out and proud" gay guy who is also — let’s face it — fairly obnoxious, insisting that everyone see him, first and foremost, as a GAY GUY.
He hits on straight guys in the lockerroom just to provoke a reaction, and he sees homophobia where it doesn’t exist.
"You ruin it for gay people, Lionel!" Marshall says to him in the second episode, in a fascinating lockerroom encounter. "You make being gay something no one would ever want to be. It’s like you’re asking for it…. Like you want guys to call you a fag."
Basically, Tara creator Diablo Cody is daring to put on television the explosive (and totally political incorrect) intra-gay debate: how gay is too gay? On the other hand, this is also the debate that probably every single gay teen struggles with, at least in America.
Needless to say, I have never seen this on television before.
More interesting still is the choice Marshall makes toward the end of the second episode (which I don’t dare reveal here!).
But I will say this: it’s both way politically incorrect and very, very "real!"
When a series comes back for its second season, it should be both familiar, with characters you know and love, but also different, with unexpected storylines and (perhaps) some challenging new developments.
At least in its first two episodes, United States of Tara has perfectly walked that line.
United States of Tara premieres Monday, March 22nd on Showtime.