Last year, multi-award-winning Juno screenwriter Diablo Cody was Hollywood’s favorite indie, pull-yourself-up-from-the-stiletto-straps story. Now the dubious writing prowess of the self-mythologizing ex-stripper is being put to the test: Are her trademark tongue-twisting characters merely living in a house of index cards, or can Cody resist a Juno retread and rise to the demands required by United States of Tara, her twelve-episode Showtime series about a suburban wife and mother juggling her multiple personalities? Let’s review last night’s premiere, and preview a few forthcoming episodes, for re-Juno-vations.
1. Speaking in Cody: Tara (Toni Colette) is mother to two precocious teenagers — the Goth-boy-loving aspiring ballerina Kate (Brie Larsen), and gay, jazz-loving sophisticate Marshall (Keir Gilchrist) — and her body is host to a thong-flashing, pot-smoking, caricature-esque 15-year-old “alter” named T. The patois of the mythic, Diablan teenager is alive and well in the series, where the kids resort to an arsenal of phrases like “hose beast” and “drugs not hugs” so that they don’t have to reveal authentic human emotions.
2. Now for a very special episode of … : Juno moralized about the repercussions of teen sex like an early eighties after-school special updated for the 21st century. United States of Tara mines that old made-for-TV movie favorite, what used to be called Multiple-Personality Disorder. The controversial condition has remained largely unseen on television since the seventies.
3. Diablo: secret shill for the religious right? Her sexually active kids appear never to have heard of birth control: Juno’s one sexual encounter results in an unwanted pregnancy. Tara segues into T. as she grapples with the anguish over her inability to “micromanage my daughter’s vagina” when she finds a prescription for the morning-after pill in Kate’s backpack.
4. “Money can do horrible things to ignorant people”: Diablo cleaves to Diana Vreeland’s aphorism like a proverb. Juno gets screwed over by the jingle-writing kept husband Mark Loring (Jason Bateman) of the well-to-do prospective adoptive mother Vanessa (Jennifer Garner). Where once Mark was the girl’s kindred spirit, he reveals himself to be a loser of the lowest order when he announces weeks before Juno’s baby is due that he’s not ready to be a parent and wants to end the marriage. Tara, a mural-painter-for-hire, “creates opulent environments for women who hemorrhage money,” like the mayor’s pregnant wife, who has commissioned a seventeenth-century Rococo nursery for her unborn son and a wall fresco depicting her as a pregnant saint. Makes you wonder what Diablo’s like now that she’s got all that money.
5. The rebirth of cool: There is no cachet in embracing the au courant: Juno initially trusts Mark because he shares her fetish for punk rock (which he’d heard the first time around) and old horror movies. Marshall, Tara’s watchful, protective 14-year-old son, is a passionate devotee of Thelonious Monk and George Cukor films.