A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this TV show.
What 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.
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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?