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THE UNITED STATES OF TARA - 10 p.m. EST Sunday - Showtime
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Starline Tours, a noble institution that crams out-of-towners into minibuses for the chance to see Matthew Perry’s gardener pruning the hedges, recently dropped by the home of Diablo Cody.


Makes sense. The former Minneapolis secretary/stripper/screenwriter is firmly entrenched as Hollywood’s Great Write Hope, thanks to the Oscar-winning hoo-ha for her rookie effort, “Juno,” and buzz about next fall’s “Jennifer’s Body,” a Megan Fox flick that promises to put “Buffy” bite into the horror genre. Then there’s tonight’s premiere of “The United States of Tara,” a Showtime series about a mother with multiple personalities, a show she created at the behest of Steven Spielberg.


cover art

United States of Tara

Series Premiere
Cast: Toni Collette, John Corbett, Keir Gilchrist, Brie Larson, Rosemarie DeWitt
Regular airtime: Sundays, 10pm ET

(Showtime; US: 18 Jan 2009)

Review [17.Jan.2009]

But the tour stop, like nearly everything in her life, is not exactly what it seems.


Cody was in the back yard of her new Mulholland Drive abode recently when her Chihuahua, Luka, slipped between her legs, darted across the lawn, burrowed under the fence and disappeared into the hoity-toity neighborhood.


Cody ran up and down the streets for five long minutes, screaming Luka’s name, until she realized she had a message on her phone. Turns out someone had discovered the pooch roaming around and phoned the number on the tag around his neck. Cody would have to wait an hour, though, for the reunion. The caller was a Starline driver who had to finish his rounds.


“My dog went on a tour of stars’ homes,” Cody said two hours later at a Sunset Boulevard English pub, cheerfully drowning the incident with glasses of wine and Parliament cigarettes. “It’s ridiculous.”


Of course it is. So is becoming buddies with the likes of John Cusack, Eliza Dushku and Aaron Sorkin faster than it took Juno to give birth. So is getting an opportunity to expound on your childhood obsessions - “Beverly Hills 90210,” Judy Blume, “Land of the Lost” - on a regular basis in the pages of Entertainment Weekly. So is celebrating your 30th birthday at the Playboy Mansion.


Most ridiculous of all: The ginormous expectations for “United States” and anything else Cody may touch in the near future. If she doesn’t win another Oscar, a Pulitzer Prize and a Medal of Freedom by the time she’s 35, legions of bloggers will declare her a washout.


“‘Juno’ will be the easiest thing I will ever do,” she said. “Maybe I would have been more fortunate if it had just been a critically acclaimed sleeper instead of a huge worldwide success. Then people would have been, like, ‘Oh, I’m interested to see what she does next.’


“It’s odd. Last night I was watching a movie on Showtime with some friends and this promo for the show came up with my name in huge letters. Everyone in the room started laughing as I got up and changed the channel. What I have I done to warrant this?”


Don’t, however, start prepping a pity party. Cody seems fully prepared to enter this new, perhaps less heralded, chapter in her life and exudes barely a whiff of nostalgia for this time last year, when she was the It Girl.


“It wasn’t enjoyable, to be honest,” she said. “I would love to know what it’s like to win an Oscar for your 10th film after you’ve paid your dues and you’ve forged so many relationships in the town and everyone is smiling at you. It’s very different being the new kid pushed out on the stage and terrified.”


Further accolades may be unavoidable, however, if only because of the president of her fan club. Two years ago, when she was still living in the Twin Cities and “Juno” hadn’t even gone into production, she got a call from Spielberg. Would she be interested in developing a show about a mother who has multiple personalities?


Before you could say “Yo-yo-yiggity-yo,” Cody was down in her basement, cranking out a pilot that was eventually picked up by Showtime and attracted Oscar nominee Toni Collette in the starring role.


The 12-episode series is full of Cody’s trademark dialogue, which means almost everyone talks like a hilarious 16-year-old delinquent. Telling a gal pal that her lipstick “looks porno” is a sweet compliment. A bucket of chicken is called “cluck-cluck.” An uncomfortable moment is “like living in a Lifetime ladies’ tampon movie.”


But “Tara” also gives Cody a chance to show she can fully develop a grown-up, complicated woman, in this case one who, at the slightest hint of pressure, can snap into a promiscuous teenager, a porn-loving macho man or a demanding housewife who makes Marcia Cross on “Desperate Housewives” seem like Pinky Tuscadero.


“It’s really a statement about modern womanhood,” Cody said. “The idea that you might have to wake up and be a mom, go to work and be a ball buster, then come home and be a sex kitten, I don’t think anyone could do that without literally going insane. It’s a metaphor of what people are living with.”


Cody herself has learned a few things in the past year about the struggles of having it all. For one, there was her highly public split from musician and graphic designer Jon Hunt just days before the premiere of “Juno.” She said she knew her marriage was over as soon as she made the decision to move to Los Angeles. (She’s dating someone now, but opts not to go into details.)


She insists that she’s a terrible boss, a type-E personality, a Forrest Gump character who keeps winding up in unexpected jackpots she never sought.


“People like me are usually the passengers in life, not the drivers,” she said.


You almost believe her. But passengers don’t commit a year to stripping and then write a book about it. Passengers don’t shop a screenplay when everyone tells them they don’t have a snowflake’s chance in Hades. Passengers don’t take on executive-producer roles for both “Jennifer’s Body” and “Tara” at the same time. Passengers don’t walk with a fast, committed stride that leaves weaker mortals panting to keep up.


“You’ve got be tough in this town,” said Cody, coming dangerously close to contradicting her earlier self-assessment. “A lot of young people come to me for advice on writing, and I can’t tell them much. But I can tell them a lot about survival.”


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