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Can Toni Collette spin 'The United States of Tara' into Emmy gold?

January 16, 2009 |  2:03 pm

Looks like The United States of Tara" — written by Oscar-winning screenwriter Diablo Cody ("Juno") and starring Oscar and Emmy nominee Toni Collette as a woman besieged by multiple personalities — will be a formidable force at the Emmys, Golden Globes and other awards ahead.

The parent network of "The United States of Tara," Showtime, has emerged as a major player at the Emmys and Golden Globes in recent years. Examples: Last year David Duchovny won the Globe for best TV comedy actor for "Californication," which was also nominated for best series. Both got repeat noms this year. "Weeds" and star Mary-Louise Parker also scored double bids. Ditto "Dexter" and star Michael C. Hall, a program that just pulled off a historic breakthrough at the Emmys where it joined FX's "Damages" and AMC's "Mad Men" as the first non-HBO cable shows ever to be nominated for best series.

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Voters of showbiz awards are suckers for these kind of split-personality roles we see in "The United States of Tara." Maybe they feel like they're getting a real bargain — several performances for the price of one vote?

Joanne Woodward won at the Oscars for ("The Three Faces of Eve," 1957). Daytime Emmys champ Erika Slezak of "One Life to Live" claimed her fourth and fifth daytime awards in 1995 and 1996, respectively, for acting out six personalities, one of them a 10-year-old boy.

At the prime-time Emmys, Sally Field pulled off an upset for best actress in a made-for-TV movie in 1977 over Jane Alexander ("Eleanor & Franklin: The White House Years") by the sheer force of personalities — 16 of them in "Sybil" — and stunned award pundits who had been betting on an easy win for Alexander.

At the most recent Emmys, Cynthia Nixon prevailed for portraying multiple personalities in the "Alternate" episode of "Law & Order: SVU." But no victory for this kind of role is more notable than Lindsay Wagner of "The Bionic Woman," who stunned kudos watchers by beating Sada Thompson of "Family" as best TV drama actress of 1977. Lindsay's secret weapon: She played good and evil twin versions of her role.

While reviews for "The United States of Tara," debuting this Sunday, are mixed, most made mention of the show as a showcase for Toni Collette. The Australian actress plays a Kansas artist, wife and mother of two who by turns becomes a troublesome teenager, a proper '50s housewife and an improper good old boy. Collette earned a 2000 supporting actress Oscar nod for "The Sixth Sense" (she lost to Angelina Jolie for "Girl, Interrupted"); a 2000 Tony nom for best actress in a musical for "The Wild Party" (she lost to Heather Headley for "Aida"); and a 2007 Emmy bid for supporting actress in a movie/mini for "Tsunami: The Aftermath" (she lost to fellow Aussie Judy Davis for "The Starter Wife").

The L.A. Times review of "The United States of Tara" notes, "Despite the left-field premise, its concerns are those of a conventional sitcom. (Indeed, it's not that different from 'The Beverly Hillbillies' or 'The Addams Family' in the freaks-versus-straights department.)"

Photos: Showtime, 20th Century Fox, ABC

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