The second season of Showtime’s ‘United States of Tara’ premiered Monday night. Like writer Diablo Cody’s popular film ‘Juno,’ the show deals with serious issues with glib dialogue and ironic distance. Some people find this fresh and hilarious, while others find it shallow and irritating. Cody’s dialogue is so stylized that I find it often undercuts the emotions of a given scene. I often focus on her fingers typing on her keyboard rather than the characters. I also think the show, despite it’s funny moments, half hour length, and Emmy nominations in comedy categories, is more of a drama. Maybe it’s just that I don’t find a serious mental illness that is usually caused by horrific child abuse to be funny. Maybe it’s because I have seen DID portrayed on numerous daytime soaps and do not find the premise as original as the average premium cable viewer does.
Fortunately, this season, Tara’s (Toni Colette) alters seem more like full fledged characters than the caricatures they often were in season one. Tara’s symbolic decision to get rid of all her alters’ clothes was a sign that the show was aiming for a more sophisticated portrayal of her Dissociative Identity Disorder. Her husband Max’s (John Corbett) relief in the premiere that his wife seems to be cured is far more realistic then the family’s cheerful acceptance of Tara’s problems in season one. The inevitable return of Tara’s male alter Buck at the end of the season premiere was played for poignancy rather than laughs. Buck’s affair with a cocktail waitress played by Joey Lauren Adams is the most creative take I’ve seen on the Adult Heterosexual Women Embarking Upon Lesbian Affairs television trope. However, I found myself most interested in gay teen Marshall’s (Keir Gilcrist) battle with a more militant, flamboyant gay classmate who seems determined to bring out the intolerance in his classmates. It is a story I have not seen before that feels both contemporary and real.
I spoke with John Corbett, who plays the long-suffering Max. He revealed that this will be a season where Max will start to unravel, Tara will develop new personalities, and, most frightening of all, Max will brave the real estate market.
What is Max’s arc going to be this season?
He’s the rock, but he’s not as much of one as he was last season, trying to hold that family together. He gets a little frayed around the edges.
The premiere begins with Tara’s DID seemingly in remission. It appears that Max flirting with a cocktail waitress in front of her is what brings the alters back.
Yeah. It says a lot about married men who flirt, doesn’t it?
Tara’s male personality Buck ends up having an affair. Does Max consider it cheating when the alters do it?
I think we’ll find out. I have a conversation with Tara and her sister that this isn’t the first time. I think it’s happened a lot. It’s a numerous amount of times that she’s f—ed around, basically as other characters. It’s definitely cheating. This whole thing can go under the banner of getting to do anything you want and say, “Look, I’ve got my disease. You can’t be mad at me.”
Why is Max willing to stay with Tara despite all the difficulties?
I don’t know why he does. I don’t know if John would. Max has to because that’s what they tell him to do. I don’t know a lot of dudes that would be able to stick around like Max. He’s a good guy, but he’s no rocket scientist or saint. Maybe he’s doing it for the kids, but he really loves his wife.
My theory is that he would be bored with an ordinary woman and marriage.
I don’t know. The first couple episodes I think he’s enjoying the fact that for once he’s got an ordinary wife. She’s on her meds and even though she knows she’s cracking, she hasn’t come clean yet. I think he’ll become more unraveled as the truths come out. She even goes to a different place this year. Before, when she would go into an alter, she wouldn’t really have a recall of anything that happened. She starts to become cognizant with some of the alters. There’s a new alter that’s a therapist. They’ll actually both be in the same room having conversations. It takes away the handy excuse of, “I didn’t know what I was doing,” because now she’s going to be present for a lot of this stuff.
Why does Max want to buy the vacant house on his block, where his neighbor killed himself?
The show takes place in current times. There’s a house two doors from mine for sale that I’ve been thinking about buying and flipping, too. I think that’s just a common thing that lots of dudes are doing these days. It’s good time to get a house. I think Max is one of those guys who sees it as a money making opportunity. Little does he know, there’s some deeper things about the house.
In the season premiere the question is asked, can a person be fixed? Do you think Tara can be fixed? Do you think Max needs fixing?
Everybody needs fixing. I’ve seen that in every relationship I know. I can be my own Dr. Phil. I can break down every relationship, tell you what’s going on, and of course my own relationship in real life needs fixing too. Don’t forget, Toni just won an Emmy and a Golden Globe for Best Actress in a Comedy. We’re doing a comedy so we’re really walking the fine line of trying not to make fun of it and not just have a show where Toni’s changing into different characters. It’s not like ‘Saturday Night Live‘ where people ask her, “Do you have any idea for characters?” There’s a lot of care in it, but we still have to try and make it funny. I’m glad that nobody in my family has this disorder because it would be hard to live with.
As an actor, how do you approach playing a character who is often the straight man to Tara?
As an actor, you read the script one time at a table read then just forget all the other stuff going on. Good acting can make you forget, and you’ll get caught up in the moment. I just try to blur my mind of what’s happening in real life. I read the script one time at the table read, and then I don’t even think about it until I get to the set and they hand you those little sides. Toni, she likes to know what she’s doing, and she’ll look at all the stuff at night before she goes to bed even after she’s worked all day to make sure she knows all her lines for the next day. I’m a quick study so I’ll go, “What are we shooting today?” They’ll tell me, and we’ll go into the kitchen and shoot that scene to try and make it real, not put too much into it.
It’s such a funny show. What are some of the funniest things that have happened while you’re shooting?
It’s always Toni. She’s Australian and is almost like another character. It’s funny watching her put on a trucker cap and these big glasses and walk around in oversized boots and go, “I’m going to kick the s–t out of you.” The kids, Brie Larson (Kate) and Keir Gilchrist (Marshall), they’re typical teenagers. They know everything about whatever’s the newest thing on YouTube that’s been on there for six minutes, they know about it and they’re showing it to you. It’s fun for me because I’m not ever around kids. I don’t have kids and for three months I get to be around the coolest kids.
It’s interesting that you don’t spend much time around kids, because you keep getting cast as Dads. You’re playing the iconic Mr. Quimby in Ramona and Beezus. Why are you drawn to playing family men?
It’s not what draws me. It’s what makes someone at the studios say, “Hey, we know who we want for this role,” because I’ve never heard of these Ramona books in my life. Then I’ll read the script and think, “It’s quite charming. I’d love to play the Dad in that movie.” Then I’ll start doing the research: what is Ramona? Who’s Beverly Cleary? Millions of people grew up reading these books and know all about it, and I had no idea it existed. I can’t explain it other than good luck.
If Max developed an alter, who would it be?
It would be a baby. He does so much taking care of people, he probably would just want to be taken care of.