24. United States of Tara

Creator: Diablo Cody
Years: 2009-2011

Finally, a show that talks about mental illness without completely botching it. It’s a silly comedy, so there is exaggeration for jokes, but the writers treat dissociative identity disorder (and mental health in general) pretty respectfully here. The show’s main character, Tara (played wonderfully by Toni Collette), has four identities to cope with some unknown childhood trauma (wild and flirty teenager, 1950’s housewife, obnoxious male Vietnam vet, and a very dark, mysterious destructive extension of her id). I’ve never worked directly with someone with DID, but I have co-workers who have and I’ve researched it plenty. The chances of someone having several wildly specific and hilarious personalities is unrealistic, but the way other people talk to her and treat her is.

For starters, Tara (and others) vehemently fight against the term multiple-personality disorder, as well as any other stigmatizing terms to describe her mental illness. The therapists she works with have ethics, a rarity for television. Her family copes with her unpredictability in realistic ways, alternately rescuing her and escaping from her. To top it off, her son discovers throughout the course of the show he’s gay and nobody makes a big fucking deal out of it. It just becomes the new normal.

In addition to the mostly comedic nature of the show, there are some disturbing moments as well. But for the most part, it’s meant to make you laugh. If you’re curious, you can pretty much tell if you’re going to like it after one episode. If the humor doesn’t do it for you right away, it probably ain’t going to.

The show lasted three seasons. Season two has a final episode that could have been the end of the series. They somehow scraped another season’s worth of material and had another fine ending to season three, but I’m glad it wasn’t renewed after that. Three was about perfect.

One thought on “24. United States of Tara”

  1. I’ve still only seen the first season, which was quite good. Not just any actress could have been cast for Tara; I think she really helped with the believability factor. Every character is treated with respect and their struggles, even when funny, are real.

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