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'United States of Tara': Will the strongest alter win?

January 25, 2009 | 10:30 pm

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Buck may be willing to beat up miscreant boyfriends, but perfectly coifed and orderly Alice seems to think she is the dominant alter. She arrives after Tara and her sister Charmaine have a brief run-in with a couple of PTA moms at the mall. The women, dripping with curiosity, scorn and pity, comment on Tara's troubles and her inability to fulfill her motherly duties at the charity bake sale. Donna Reed wanna-be Alice to the rescue. 

Things at home haven't been going well either. At a family summit, Kate revealed a less than enthusiastic response to the new openness about mom's alters, which seems a little more realistic for a teenage daughter, over her seeming acceptance of "T" in the first episode. We learn that Marshall, unusually sensitive and precocious for a high school teen, provoked his English teacher, Mr. Girshnov, played by "Arrested Development's" Tony Hale, by comparing the literary metaphor of a walking stick to an erection. When his teacher challenged him, Marshall's mouthy reply landed Max in a parent-teacher conference. (Did anyone else cheer at the site of "Buster" on screen?  Please, please make an "Arrested Development" movie. And give Mr. Girshnov more "Tara" time.)

Thus, when Alice stops by the charity bake sale at school with a Martha Stewart-inspired cake, her timing is perfect to pop in on the parent-teacher conference between Max and Mr. Girshnov. Max visibly stiffens as Alice takes a seat next to him. 

But does Alice really have all the answers? While Max was getting nowhere, she delves straight to the heart of the matter, Mr. Girshnov's own self-esteem issues that he's taking out on the "weird" kid in class. "May I call you by your first name?" Alice asks the obviously uncomfortable Mr. Girshnov.  "Oral," he replies.  "Mr. Girshnov, it's time to start loving Oral," Alice tells him in her saccharine-sweet voice. 

Max seems impressed, Marshall grateful and Kate sullen as they eat out as a family. Alice speaks for all the alters when she declares that "Tara is not equipped to manage this family at the moment. We've all come to a consensus, and I think you need me right now." The next moment she's telling Kate that Tara's pregnancy with her at 19 was a hardship, calls her a graceless ingrate and then attacks Kate in the ladies' room, trying to wash her mouth out with hand soap. Kate's relationship with Tara, T, Buck and Alice takes difficult mother-daughter relationships to new levels of intricacy that could make for great drama.

Unitedstatesoftarainsert_2At home, Max clearly defines the alters as different from Tara when he asks Alice, "Why did you feel the need to sanitize my kid's mouth, anyway?" After denied the undeniable joy of ironing creases into Max's jeans, Alice tries to seduce him with the line every father of teens wants to hear: "Don't you want to make a baby?"

At Episode 2, we're just starting to get an understanding for the complex and comedic sides of this show. Will Alice be around more than the others? As she told Marshall, "Someday, if everything goes the way I'm hoping, I'll be here all the time. Won't that be fun?" 

— Rebecca Snavely

(Photo: Toni Collette. Credit: Showtime.)

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