New 2009: United States of Tara

Showtime, Sundays beginning Jan. 18

Leave it to Showtime to take a truckload of mega-firsts — most notably the first TV series for actress Toni Collette (Little Miss Sunshine), the first TV project for Juno scribe Diablo Cody, and the net’s first collaboration with Steven Spielberg and DreamWorks — throw in an uber-sensitive plotline, and then cram the whole works into a mere half-hour of the funniest, most boundary-blurring weekly comedy on television.

Based on Spielberg’s original concept and crafted into an unflinchingly dark sitcom by Cody, United States of Tara stars the Academy Award-nominated Collette as Tara Gregor, an outwardly ordinary working mom who lives with dissociative identity disorder.

“When you’re casting a show that requires an actress to not only play one complex character but in this case several, the road begins and ends with Toni Collette,” says Robert Greenblatt, president of entertainment for Showtime Networks Inc. “All of us at Showtime and DreamWorks are thrilled to have one of the best young actresses of her generation aboard this project.”

Cody says she created Tara’s stress-triggered “alters” to mirror the multiple roles women are expected to seamlessly embrace — the eternally youthful sexpot, embodied by promiscuous, whale-tail-sporting “T”, who filches Tara’s credit cards (“We’re fully laminated!”), and scores morning-after pills for teenage daughter Kate (Brie Larsen); the anything-men-can-do-I-can-do-better renegade, embodied by beer-swilling, gun-totin’ Buck (who applauds loudly at Kate’s dance recital then promptly flattens the girl’s grabby boyfriend); and a perfectly coiffed, apron-and-heels-wearing June Cleaver-ly house frau.

Collette’s no-holds-barred performance is harmonized to perfection by John Corbett, resurrecting his Northern Exposure/Chris Stevens brand of sexy zen to play Max, Tara’s infinitely tolerant husband who skillfully navigates each alter, rebuffing T’s writhing, tongue-waving advances and joining Buck at the gun range for a Gregor-guys-only outing. And Keir Gilchrist is nothing shy of scene-stealing as teen son Marshall, a soulful, effeminate lad who is less than at home on the range, but crafts bakery-worthy “Muffins of Triumph” for his sister’s aforementioned recital.

The show is NOT for the easily offended or the Everybody Loves Raymond nostalgic. That said, we gleefully pledge our allegiance to the United States of Tara. — Lori Acken

Images: © 2009 Showtime Credit: Jordin Althaus