Showtime announces “The United States of Tara”


Boy, the Spielbergs are all over Showtime these days.

Last season on The L Word, we watched Jessica Capshaw (Steven Spielberg’s stepdaughter) play voluptuous grad student Nadia as she talked (and talked) and flirted and brought forth a serious “A”-game-wearing-down seduction of Bette Porter. Now another Showtime-Spielberg connection is in the offing. It was announced at the Television Critics Association summer press tour that Spielberg’s DreamWorks Television is bringing a new show, The United States of Tara, to a Showtime channel near you.

My very first heaping praise of “wow” goes to the title. That is pure quality clever right there, ladies and gentlewomen. Upper echelon wordplay. The cleverness of the title relates directly to my next “wow,” which goes to the premise of the show itself. As Showtime Networks president of entertainment Robert Greenblatt framed it:

“The mother in this show, whose name is Tara, has multiple personality syndrome. In Hollywood shorthand, this is sort of Weeds meets Sybil or The Three Faces of Eve.”

Are you kidding me? A comedy about dissociative identity disorder (multiple personality)? Well, slap my knee and call me crazy! That is bold. A comedy? Really? I hope it’s insanely funny, because if it falls short of that it may just seem like poor taste.

As I read through the personalities that will emerge from Tara, like “an aggressive male biker or a promiscuous teenage girl or even a cake-baking Martha Stewart–like homemaker,” I was a little disappointed that there was nothing about a butch woman who loves flannel and comfortable shoes and is handy around the house. But hey, it’s Showtime, so maybe the aggressive male biker isn’t what he seems to be on paper? Maybe there will be more to “his” story than meets the eye? OK, so I doubt that, but after all this is the network that gave us Queer as Folk and The L Word, plus Isabelle Hodes, the 12-year-old self-proclaimed lesbian daughter of Celia Hodes (not to mention the lesbian subtext of Celia and Nancy Botwin) on Weeds. So, something lesbian-appealing will be in the air, right?

No official casting has been announced just yet, but Greenblatt offered this: “I know this character will attract an extraordinary actress looking for a real tour de force opportunity.” It’s hard to know what to make of any of it. Will Tara be a 30-ish mother with younger kids (though young kids dealing with a parent’s mental health issues doesn’t sound so funny), or will she be a 35- to 40-year-old mother with teenage children (the teens’ reactions could be funny, especially if they themselves appear to be high-functioning kids with an odd parent), or will Showtime look to cast someone who’s old enough to have adult children or college-age children?

Why let any of this lack of detail stop us from speculating, guessing or just plain talking out of our ear on who might be able to pull off the array of characters? Let’s see … Lucille Ball has passed on to that big female comedy nightspot in the sky:

— and the original Sybil, Sally Field, already stars in Brothers and Sisters on ABC, while the original Eve, Joanne Woodward, is now 77 and probably retired. So who else has the goods?

Tracey Ullman? She has certainly proven she can be a variety of characters. Or Debra Messing? She has wonderful comedic timing, and the idea of seeing her dressed up as a male biker sounds butchly divine.

Oh, how about Edie Falco? She has a little more free time on her hands these days, and the woman can act and has the awards to prove it. Plus, I get her and Felicity Huffman confused anyway, and Huffman did a great job in Transamerica, so my twisted logic says that Falco can pull this whole thing off as well. Wait, I know, I know, Wanda Sykes! Maybe they have her married to a Larry David sort of character and that would be the trauma that brings on the dissociative disorder?

OK, fine, I guess you’ve noticed that I stink at this “predict the star of the show” game. Anyone else out there have any ideas?

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