Transparent, Amazon Instant Video, review: A truly great transgender drama series

This boundary-pushing show combines the naturalism of mumblecore with the engaging melodrama of Six Feet Under

Ellen E. Jones
Wednesday 01 October 2014 09:26
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Amazon Studios’ pilot season, in which single episodes of original series are trialled on the site, has been running since 2013, but Transparent is the first truly great series it has produced. This family drama is exciting not just because of the quality of the writing and acting (both exceptionally good), but because of what it represents.

Like the Netflix Originals series Orange Is the New Black, Transparent proves streaming sites can be more than just a warehouse for reruns, or a bargain basement for second-rate shows: streaming sites can be a home to the adventurous, boundary-pushing television that mainstream broadcasters have long since given up on.

Jeffrey Tambor stars as Mort/Maura Pfefferman, a divorced father-of-three who in the first episode was still working up the courage to come out as transgender to his family. They are Ali, a mostly unemployed writer played by Gaby Hoffmann (wonderful as Adam’s oft-nude sister in Girls); Josh, a music producer played by Jay Duplass (one half the Duplass brothers directing duo); and finally, Sarah (Amy Landecker), a stay-at-home mother who has unresolved feelings for her old college girlfriend.

Tambor has played the patriarch of troubled family before as George Bluth Sr in Arrested Development, but, while still occasionally comic, the Pfefferman’s family dynamic is more complicated and more heartfelt than the Bluth’s.

Transparent combines the talky naturalism of the Duplass brothers’ mumblecore movie work with the engaging melodrama of creator Jill Soloway’s earlier series Six Feet Under. In fact, Soloway has said that the character of Maura is partially based on her own father, who came out as genderqueer a few years ago. She also enacted a “transfirmative action” programme during production, hiring 20 transpeople for cast and crew in addition to two full-time trans-script consultants.

If Laverne Cox’s character in Orange Is the New Black was the first promising step towards a better depiction of trans-people on television, then this is the second: a show that not only features a fully rounded transgendered woman in a central role but also explores through its ensemble cast the fluidity of gender in general. This is a series in which everyone is, in some sense, transitioning.

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