The United States of Tara
By Melissa Camacho,
Common Sense Media Reviewer
Common Sense Media Reviewers
Smart but mature dramedy about living with mental illness.
A Lot or a Little?
What you will—and won't—find in this TV show.
Highlights some of the issues, difficulties, and misinformation surrounding DID and mental illness. The importance of family is also underscored here.
Positive Role Models
The family accepts Tara's disorder as part of who she is and deals with it openly; some other characters find it hard to understand their situation. Tara's alters play to some gender/age stereotypes, but that's part of the point. Tara's teenage son Marshall is openly gay.
Violence & Scariness
One of Tara's alters is prone to violence and gets into physical fights (punching, kicking, shoving) when provoked. These events sometimes lead to bruises and black eyes.
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Sex, Romance & Nudity
Lots of strong sexual innuendo; occasional nudity. Some female characters are shown in their underwear (including revealing G-strings). Teenage Kate is open about being sexually active; the "morning after" pill is discussed. A secondary character admits that she was sexually molested. Tara's alters sometimes come on strong to husband John, but he'll only have sex with his wife when she's actually thinking as Tara.
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Frequent uncensored cursing, including words like "s--t" and "f--k."
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Products & Purchases
Visual and verbal references to Facebook. Brands of everyday items like Dell Computer and Gold Medal Flour are sometimes visible.
Drinking, Drugs & Smoking
Smoking and drinking (beer, martinis, wine) are frequently visible. References are made to getting high (Tara's teenage personality, "T," talks about "smoking a fatty").
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Parents Need to Know
Parents need to know that this dramedy centers on a suburban wife and mother who's struggling with a very overt form of dissociative identity disorder. While the character's shifts in and out of her alter egos create some humorous moments, overall the series humanizes people with the disease and treats the disorder and those who have it with sensitivity and respect. That said, it's on pay cable, and it features some decidedly adult content -- including some strong sexual innuendo, nudity, swearing, drinking, smoking, and references to drug use. One teen character is openly gay; another openly discusses being sexually active.
Where to Watch
Based on 2 parent reviews
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What's the Story?
Produced by Steven Spielberg and Juno writer Diablo Cody, THE UNITED STATES OF TARA is a dark comedy about a woman struggling to balance her family life while living with dissociative identity disorder (formerly known as multiple personality disorder). After going off her DID medication to avoid its debilitating side effects, Tara Gregson (Toni Collette) must face the resurgence of her alter egos: 15-year-old "T," tough talking biker guy "Butch," and sassy retro housewife "Alice." As Tara tries to live as normal a life as possible, her husband Max (John Corbett) and teenage kids Kate (Brie Larson) and Marshall (Keir Gilchrist) must learn to keep up with the unpredictable appearances of her different personalities and the occasional chaos they cause. The family must also face the social stigma associated with mental illness, made more challenging by Tara's sister Charmaine's (played by Rosemarie DeWitt) inability to accept DID as a real disorder. Still, despite the intense challenges she faces, Tara -- along with her "alters" -- manages to be there for her family.
Is It Any Good?
This sensitive, smartly written dramedy successfully addresses the seriousness of DID while normalizing its existence through humor. But although there are many funny moments, the series also highlights how difficult it can be to live with a mental illness and/or to live with someone who has psychiatric problems. It also addresses the embarrassment and shame often felt by those whose lives are impacted by a mental disorder.
The series also uses DID as a metaphor for the multiple roles that all women play in their daily lives as they juggle things like careers, motherhood, and marriage. As a result, viewers may find themselves relating to Tara's character despite some of her alters' over-the-top behavior -- including drinking, smoking, swearing, and engaging in some violent and/or sexually provocative behavior. Overall, the show succeeds in de-stigmatizing a very misunderstood condition and provides some thoughtful, heartwarming -- albeit mature -- entertainment.
Talk to Your Kids About ...
Families can talk about the show's teenage characters. Do they seem more or less realistic than teens on other TV shows? Why? How does the show present teenage sexuality? Parents, talk to your teens about how seeing sex in the media can affect behavior. Families can also discuss how the media typically portrays people who are mentally ill. Does the media offer a fair and accurate representation of people who struggle with emotional, psychological, and/or psychiatric disorders? Why or why not? Is this show different? How?
- Premiere date: January 18, 2009
- Cast: Brie Larson, John Corbett, Toni Collette
- Network: Showtime
- Genre: Comedy
- TV rating: TV-MA
- Last updated: June 7, 2023
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