Tara Gregson (Toni Collette) is a mid-30s mother of two with Dissociative Identity Disorder. After Tara takes a break from her meds to discover the cause, three of her alters resurface: Buck, a male alter who likes the firing range and claims to have lost his member in 'Nam; Alice, a 1950s housewife who claims to have attended Radcliffe at Harvard; and T, a pot-smoking, flirty teenager who likes maxing out Tara's credit cards. Additional alters surface during the course of the series: Gimme, a Wild Child seemingly incapable of speech; Shoshana Schoenbaum, a therapist whose book Tara read, and who is a dead ringer for the real deal; Chicken, Tara's personality when she was a child; and Bryce Craine, an alter based on Tara's half-brother.United States of Tara is an American Dramedy that explores the effect DID can have on a family. That family in this case includes her husband, Max; her daughter, Kate, and son, Marshall, all three of whom have problems of their own. Max has more patience than Job, Kate's going through that awkward time known as the teenage years and Marshall has to deal with being an openly gay 14-year-old (and Buck being the manliest of men).The series was created by Steven Spielberg and written by Diablo Cody. It began running on Showtime in January of 2009 and ran for three seasons.
This series provide examples of:
All Girls Want Bad Boys: Kate's first shown boyfriend Ben is a Goth/Wapanese and an abusive douchebag. The latter boyfriends aren't all that much better.
Ax-Crazy: Tara's new alter, Bryce Craine, based off her half-brother who abused her.
Book Ends: The pilot and the season one finale both end in a bowling alley with the same music playing, with someone saying "Make that ball your bitch"
Big Bad: Tara's alters in season 1 seem to act as the antagonists, being the direct cause of pretty much every conflict, with T especially being destructive.
Bittersweet Ending: The series finale, "The Good Parts". Tara makes amends with the whole family; Max is able to finally vent out all his frustrations healthily; Marshall is beginning to take tiny steps in accepting Lionel's death and decides not to shut Tara out of his life; Charmaine has finally matured and asks Neil to marry her; and Kate for once in her life is in a healthy relationship that she isn't rushing. Bryce seems to be out of the picture, but Tara decided to lock herself in "the loony bin" in Boston to be regularly seen by one of the leading therapists that specializes in DID. One of the final scenes shows that Alice, T, and Buck are still around so it's not a 100% guarantee that Bryce is gone for good, or if the other alters are alive.
Born in the Wrong Century: Marshall and his friend from the first season both dress in early 20th century fashion, and are obsessed with old classic cinema and jazz music.
Bread, Eggs, Breaded Eggs: In one Season One episode, Buck is showing Max his porn collection, and remarks "I got big girls, black girls, big black girls..."
Cerebus Syndrome: The Bryce Craine storyline. You can quickly notice the moment this begins as the show stops playing it's opening credits sequence and simply has a cold-open fade from black.
Character Development: Everyone. The most obvious examples would be Kate and Charmaine's transformations over the series.
Characterization Marches On: During the pilot episode, Marshall and even Max act like they're terrified of Buck, who frightens and intimidates them. Pretty much immediately afterwards he is just a clowny redneck character that is for the most part considered harmless.
Closer to Earth: Gender Flipped. Max is "a member of that strange breed of TV husband that exhibits infinite patience", to quote the New Yorker. To be fair, though, Tara does have a pretty good justification for not always being level-headed.
Subverted as of season 2. Max in a fit of rage beats the hell out of the contractor who didn't show up to fix up the new house he bought. On his kid's birthday.
Failure Is the Only Option: At the beginning of Season 2, Tara has been alter-free for three months. Guess what happens at the end of the episode.
Fille Fatale: T has elements of this, what with her aggressively hitting on Max and later on Jason.
Friends Rent Control: for a woman who does piece work as an artist and a landscaper, raising two teenaged kids, they seem to have a pretty posh house.
Freudian Excuse: A rather heartbreaking one: Tara was sexually abused year nine at her boarding school. To make matters worse, it's revealed that her being raped wasn't the trauma that caused her to dissociate, since T was already active.
It's revealed in the season 2 finale that when Tara was five-years-old, her and Charmaine's parents took in her father's son from a previous marriage, who was "troubled" and was implied to have repeatedly sexually abused her. Tara and Charmaine were moved to a foster home for a while; the woman who took them in inspired one of Tara's alters, Alice.
Ghost in the Machine: Probably not in the actual series proper, but the title sequence stylistically represents the three alters living in a house that turns into Tara's head. It won an Emmy.
Infant Immortality: Averted. When Bryce starts violently killing the alters, sweet and innocent 5 year old Chicken is the first to be murdered.
Informed Attribute: While the flashbacks to Mimi clearly showed her as having Alice's exact personality, when Tara tracked her down in the present everyone was still reacting as if she was much more Alice-like than she appeared to be. While prim and proper, she was very much Alice-lite.
Jerkass: For the first six and a half episodes, Charmaine was pretty consistently a massive bitch about her sister's mental illness. She gets better, thankfully.
Mama Bear: Alice with a whole heap of Tranquil Fury and a side of Kirk Summation. Aside from her family Alice believes she's one for Tara herself because, in her words, Tara is weak.
May-December Romance: Throughout the entire series, 15 year old Kate seems to almost exclusively go for men much, much older than her. Considering by the end of the final scene she's only 18 at most, it's somewhat uncomfortable.
Mood Whiplash: After Pammy the bartender declared her love for Buck at the ice rink, Max angrily stormed off which left Tara alone and depressed. Then Kate picks up the thread of a conversation she and Marshall were having earlier, explaining a perverse sexual position — "the dogs in the bathtub" — to him.
Kate: So the dogs are your balls and the bathtub is her—
"Crunchy Ice" is the darkest episode of the series, but of course its chock full of Black Comedy. It's even lampshaded by Marshall.
Marshall: It's laugh or cry time here at the musée d'arte. I choose laugh.
Grandma Sandi: Everything that's happened to your family, your kids, your husband, everything they are, everything they could've been but aren't, it's all your fault. And if you touch my tree, I'll break your fucking fingers.
Papa Wolf: Buck will kick your ass if you mess with his loved ones. Ask Kate's ex-boyfriend. And like Alice, he is also defensive of Tara as seen in the season 1 finale when he tried to jump one of the guys who raped Tara/T in high school.
Romantic False Lead: Charmaine's new boyfriend, "Fake Uncle" Nick, is a Nice RFL with regards to the relationship between her and Neil, until the wedding.
Soap Punishment: Alice, one of Tara's alters who is a 1950s housewife, invokes this trope after Kate gives her Ethical Slut rant. Alice follows through on the threat, driving Kate to get a job so she can move out (which becomes a major subplot for the next two seasons).
Split Personality Takeover: Alice seems at times like she wants to do this, what with her "I'll be around all the time" speech to Marshall in the second episode and her deriding Tara for being weak in the season finale.
This also seems to be Bryce's plan. He "killed" Chicken and asked to be taken to Tara so he can do the same to her. Later on he killed Shoshana and then Gimme. On "Crunchy Ice" he killed Buck, T. and Alice as well.
Stalker with a Crush: Gene gets really creepy over Kate. As does Courtney over Marshall, though to a lesser degree.
Stepford Smiler: Alice. Trapped in an eternal Eisenhower era housewife personality, said to secretly get drunk off cooking wine and initially seems hellbent on staying in control of Tara's body. Though over time her own psychosis lessens as she learns to work with Tara.
Talking to Themself: In season 1, Alice was the only one that was able to communicate with the other alters and claimed that she had no idea where Tara would go to when she took over the body; in season 2 Tara was able to have an argument with Buck and have therapy with Shoshana; in season 3 Tara is able to fully communicate with them all and even summoned them for a conference.
In season 3 some alters were having conversations with each other while Tara was Locked Out of the Loop. But she was still able to see and hear them.
There Are No Therapists: Tara has a therapist in season one... it's just that the therapist is completely over her head on the subject of DID and ultimately stops working with Tara because she herself admits that she is completely unqualified to help her. In season two, Tara gains a new alter who becomes her therapist.
Wild Child: God only knows if Gimme is a child or even HUMAN, but its 'poncho-goblin' aesthetic certainly makes Tara look feral when it comes out to play.
In "Wheels," during the conference in Tara's mind T refers to Gimme by saying they should "drown the dog." Gimme responds by biting her, then barking.
Wild Teen Party: Marshall throws one with Kate's help when his parents are gone in the hopes that the boy he likes will come. Charmaine immediately thinks Kate is to blame.
What Happened to the Mouse?: Gene and Jason from the first season both vanished without mention by season 2. Possibly justified since a fair amount of time is implied to have passed between the two seasons so any manner of things could have happened to the two characters to prevent them showing up again.
Jason is mentioned a couple of times in the second season.
Also the case with T, who doesn't appear at all in the second season and is only talked about once.
Actually, she does appear in the penultimate episode of the second season, if only briefly. She comes out before Chicken at the Parmeters' house, to accuse Mimi's husband Dwayne of abusing Tara.
Woman Scorned: Marshall's reaction to his crush making out with T is to set her shed on fire and watch as it burns. It's very Medea.
World of Snark: All of the main characters, as well as several supporting characters, have a supremely sarcastic sense of humor. Of particular note are Tara, Kate, Marshall, and Charmaine, but all the others get their moments. Even Bryce, in his Black Comedy manner.