Diablo Cody's United States of Tara (Monday, 9:30 p.m.) makes Showtime a must-subscribe premium station, just as The Sopranos did for HBO. The subject is the mutability of modern identity.
Our everywoman is Tara (Toni Collette), who feels divided about her marriage, her kids and her place in the world. Many of us do, but in Tara's case, the division is literal. She has multiple personality disorder, and her "alters" include the oversexed teen T, the old-school housewife Alice, and the macho male Buck. Still, Tara muddles along with her suburban life, and her family deals with the changes. Just as in real life, crazy is the new normal.
In this week's episode, Tara agonizes about her activities as Buck. "He" is involved with Pammy (Joey Lauren Adams), who's fallen deeply in love with "him." Like everything else in this TV universe, sexual identity proves to be elusive. Tara is confused about which gender category she fits into; indeed, by the end of the half-hour, the whole idea of categories looks hopelessly antiquated.
Pammy finds out that Buck is really a female but remains unfazed. "I love you for who you really are," she says.
And who, exactly, is that?
SGU: Stargate Universe
Friday, 8 pm (SyFy)
SGU is solid space-opera fare with only a hint of the solemn silliness inherent in the genre. This week, Col. Young's underlings suspect he is responsible for a colleague's death. Meanwhile, aliens fire on their spaceship and take a beautiful female crew member hostage. Col. Young travels to the alien craft to find her imprisoned in a fish tank wearing a kind of scuba mask. Her makeup remains impeccable during and after captivity.
The aliens could use rethinking. They're those cheesy ectomorphs with oversized heads you see in so many science-fiction productions. Plus, with brains that big, couldn't they come up with a more sophisticated prison than a fish tank?
Tori & Dean: Home Sweet Hollywood
Monday, 9 pm (Oxygen)
This is one of those bogus reality shows where people unconvincingly pretend to live their lives for the camera. Are we really supposed to believe that married couple Tori Spelling and Dean McDermott spontaneously decided to take a cross-country trip in an RV for the season premiere? Or is it more likely that the producers simply handed Tori and Dean the script? When the cameraman films the couple chatting in bed, in a roadside motel, in the dark, with suspiciously glamorous lighting, you stop expecting that anything here will be "real."
I don't mind bogus reality series if they're entertaining, but the fact that Tori and Dean use their two young children as props makes this one hard to enjoy. Even their marital strife is queasily exploited for plot points. They work out their issues on camera while failing to perceive the biggest problem in their marriage: the fact that they work out their issues on camera!
Christian Siriano: Having a Moment
Monday, 9 pm (Bravo)
After winning Project Runway, skinny, bespectacled Christian Siriano became a rising star in the fashion world. Thanks to his appealingly childlike personality, his special Having a Moment is among the most enjoyable hours of reality TV you'll see all year. Siriano is not obnoxious, mean-spirited or boneheaded the types favored by most reality producers. He's playful and witty, with a penchant for ironically amping up the drama in every situation. One of his favorite words is "literally" because it gives his relentless exaggeration even more punch: "It's literally the most fabulous event in New York City!"
Life is almost unbearably intense as Christian prepares for Fashion Week or does the pounding soundtrack just make it seem that way? He works on clothes for Sarah Jessica Parker, gets interrupted by visits from his mom, and puts out a hundred fires related to his upcoming show. He also spends time at home with his partner, Brad, offering a lovely picture of gay domestic bliss. You long to hang out with them and get your own hair cut like Christian's a madcap mix of wisps, spikes and puffs.
I'm going to watch this special at least 10 times. Literally.
Madman of the Sea
Tuesday, 9 pm (Animal Planet)
Animal Planet has found yet another crazy dude who's willing to go out and hassle dangerous animals. Following in the footsteps of the late Steve Irwin, Matt Watson bills himself as a "daredevil fisherman" who faces off against horrible sea creatures.
I'd caution Watson that, after killing Irwin, the horrible sea creatures currently have momentum on their side.