Tuesday, March 29, 2011

United States of Tara Recap: The Head Trip Returns

Toni Collette as Tara Gregson

God, I hope I'm not the only one who's excited over this, because, dear reader, I have made my selection: Tara shall be the show that I will be recapping here for the next twelve weeks or so. It's rather perfect, actually: a dramatic comedy with short seasons on cable. And honestly, I've written about Showtime babies so much in the past, it's only fitting that I return to the source of so many of my favorite shows slash blog fodder.

Season 3 premiered last night and quickly caught us all up to speed on the various goings-on since Charmaine's non-wedding last season and however long it took for her pregnancy to reach false labor stages. Kate is now moved out of her parents' house... and into her aunt's. Neil is in Charmaine's life now, but in a much less glamorous capacity than he would want, which became more obvious than ever when she coldly rejected his earnest marriage proposal in front of her whole family. Marshall and Lionel are together but aren't putting any labels on it, because according to Lionel, "'boyfriend' is just another one of those gross words, like 'vagina' or 'love.'" I can usually pick out within minutes the episodes written by Diablo Cody, and "...youwillnotwin..." was replete with the too-clever dialogue and cynicism that characterizes her writing. The episode title is in reference to a creepy yet intriguing moment when one of Tara's possibly heretofore unknown alters briefly hijacks her essay on somatization. Why is Tara writing an essay on somatization? Because this season appears to be all about her unfulfilled wishes, both conscious and unconscious: to find her newly discovered half-brother and to finish her undergraduate degree, which conveniently requires her to take a course inwhat else?abormal psychology. Her professor is a curmudgeonly academic type played perfectly (and, dare I say, sexily?) by the hilarious Eddie Izzard, who, according to the sneak peek for the next episode, does not believe in dissociative identity disorder (DID). Interesting.

In the episode's most surprising twist, it was also revealed that Tara had attempted suicide at least twice in college, prompting her to drop out in her last semester. But if the hijacked essay scene is any indication, it was most likely not Tara who wanted to check out early but one of her other personalities. So who is this suicidal (homicidal?) alter, then? Her existing alters have historically been pretty protective of her, so my money's on one we haven't been acquainted with yet.

But Tara is not the only one with problems. In fact, all the main characters seem to be at some sort of impasse this season. Kate can't find a real job with just a GED and a tawdry internet past, Marshall can't get his spawn-of-Satan boyfriend to commit, Max can't retain his business clientele, Charmaine can't seem to manage being an "independent fucking woman," and Neil can't seem to abandon his shrew of a pregnant baby mama in her time of need.

Right now I am feeling very excited about college student Tara and her future interactions with her psych professor. I expect his skepticism regarding her condition will provide a new kind of challenge for Tara and hopefully some insight into herself. I also anticipate some awkward yet sweet moments between Charmaine and Neil, perhaps even a slight cut in her narcissism now that she's on the verge of motherhood. And is it just me, or is it looking like Kate might be back in the Barnaby's uniform pretty soon?

What other thoughts or predictions do you have after this first episode? And who's with me in rooting for the quick dissolution of the Marshall/Lionel union?

Monday, March 7, 2011

Five Shows I Would Cancel


I am sad. I just realized that Running Wilde has been canceled, making this the third Mitch Hurwitz show to be prematurely killed by Fox, following Arrested Development in 2006 and the lesser-known and even shorter-lived animated series Sit Down, Shut Up in 2008. Some people never learn. Wilde admittedly got off to a rocky, inconsistent start, but it showed promise and was funny in that absurd way mildly reminiscent of Arrested. Besides, I will watch almost anything Will Arnett touches. I won’t mourn it for very long, but this cancellation did get me thinking about shows that have truly reached their expiration dates and should be put out of their misery, along with the poor saps who would otherwise still wish they we knew how to quit them. Here are my top five, in no particular order:

Yes, I still watch this, cue the shaking of a thousand heads, but judging by the fact that I’ve been writing this post while the latest episode has been playing in the background, it’s obvious that this show’s guilty pleasure flame has fully been extinguished along with its humor, originality, and feminine appeal. The conflicts have been getting recycled for the past two or three seasons, and when they aren’t, the complications the writers think up are embarrassingly outlandish. I mean, how much villainy can take place on the same damn street in a gated community of East Borington, Middle America? I know that’s the schtick here, but it has gotten so seriously old that I’d rather watch Project Runway. The timeline of this show is already so screwed up that current events are supposed to be taking place 10 years or so after the first season’s; let’s not try to go for Desperate Housewives: The Golden Years here.

It’s hard for me to go back to a time when I thoroughly enjoyed and obsessively followed this show. Over the years it’s been pretty fascinating to observe the evolution of the three “sister wives,” the compelling stories of myriad supporting characters, and sometimes, the humanity of even the vilest of the lot. The high point came circa Season 3, but ever since then I’ve had an increasingly harder time becoming invested in the characters, in large part because the central one, the polygamous patriarch himself, has not seemed to develop past his general blandness. Moreover, driven by Bill’s political aspirations, the complications for his family have shifted from the private to the public sphere, where before, what made the show interesting was its focus on the secrecy of it all and the intricately nuanced questions of morality, freedom, and faith that emanated therefrom. By bringing the Henricksons’s polygamy out in the open this season, the writers have provided nothing more than a deus ex machina device to bring about obstacles and perhaps, in the end, the family’s destruction; I don’t know about others, but I would much rather have seen these relationships unravel from the inside out.

This is actually really difficult because I still enjoy this show a good amount. Still, ever since the whole Jim and Pam will-they-won’t-they mystery has been off the table, we’ve been treated to a gradual decline into sameness over the years. Now that Steve Carrell is leaving and taking the sublime character Michael Scott with him, I have doubts that the Dunder Mifflin gang will retain its viewership and special something that made it one of the great comedy wild cards of the last decade. Let’s not give this show a chance to get stale and accept that it may be time to resign it and allow its successor, Parks and Recreation aka the other NBC documentary-style sitcom, to really flourish.

OK, I’ve never watched an entire episode, but based on what I’ve seen of it on The Soup, this show neeeeeds to end, like, yesterday.

This one is really starting to grasp at straws now, as evidenced by the parade of characters, each of them more attractive than the last, that have made their way on and off the show since its premiere, and I’m not just referring to those few forced and voluntary resignations that take place every now and then. The problem is that the only new thing that ever happens among the Seattle Gracies is sex with someone different, and now that most of the possible couplings have already happened, the producers keep introducing new players to an already numerous ensemble cast in hopes of creating new stories. It’s more than a little desperate. Who the eff is Lucy Fields and why should I care about her… other than the obligatory sob story that every character in a Shonda Rhimes production seems to be walking around with (also see: Practice, Private and Map, Off the)? Since the three central couples are now well-established and happy together, why not just wrap it up neatly and call it a day? Give MerDer a damn baby, Alex a non-crazy girlfriend, and Lexie an age-appropriate boyfriend, and get out with a shred of dignity before it’s too late.  

Have I missed anything? What other shows are mercilessly keeping us hooked in spite of our better judgment?