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There can be such a thing as being too clever when it comes to screenwriting, with even the most distinctively quotable writers (see: Aaron Sorkin, Kevin Smith, Joss Whedon) sometimes unable to keep their individual characters' dialogue from melding into a hyper-literate homogenous mass. While it's unlikely that Diablo Cody came up with the premise of United States of Tara as a way of suppressing her own tendencies towards quippy sameness, the continually shifting nature of its main character shows that this Oscar winner has range beyond Juno's hipper-than-thou patter. Anchored by Toni Collette's phenomenal performance, these 12 episodes serve as a happy improvement over the intriguing first season, with the considerable moments of quirk largely balanced by a growing sympathy for its characters. Picking up several months after the previous season, the story finds dissociative personality disorder sufferer Tara (Collette) in a condition of something approaching normal, with her various alter-egos (including the overly macho Buck, '50s housewife Alice, and hysterical id-monster Gimme) all kept in check by medication. When faced with a variety of new stressors, however--including the impending marriage of her flighty sister (Rosemarie DeWitt) and the decision by her husband (John Corbett) to purchase the house next door--the suppressed residents of her psyche all come bubbling back. As a rule, Cody and Co. rarely allow a moment of narrative downtime, with results that range from realistically hectic to annoyingly frazzled. (The most Juno-esque element, a subplot involving Brie Larson's immersion into the world of webcam modeling, could have come off as unbearably twee were it not for the terrific grounding presence of guest star Viola Davis.) Such tonal blips are easy to forgive, however, when countered with Collette's astonishing warmth and physicality. (Case in point: the standout sixth episode "Torando!," in which she somehow quick-draws between four separate personalities with only a slight shift in expressions.) Whenever Tara gives Collette room to run, 30 minutes in her company seems like far too little time.

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PA895674 United States of Tara Second Season DVD (2010) $42.99 $34.99