TV Review: “Transparent” – Amazon’s Breakout Series

Written by Spencer Sterritt October 09, 2014

Transparent, Jeffery Tambour, transgender Ever since it entered the TV market, Amazon has not had a hit show along the lines of Netflix’s “Orange is the New Black” or “Bojack Horseman”. That looks to change with “Transparent,” Amazon’s latest show from the mind of Jill Solloway (“United States of Tara” and “Afternoon Delight”). As with all Amazon shows the complete 10 episode series premiered en masse, and you won’t be able to stop yourself from watching it in one go. “Transparent” stars Jeffery Tambor as Mort/Maura Pfefferman, a transgendered father of three who has decided to embrace his sexuality after years of hiding it. Given the punny title and Jeffery Tambor’s role as the head of a strange and strained family, the mind instantly jumps to “Arrested Development.” Though they are both half hour comedies with an acerbic wit, “Transparent” makes no bones about being a deep and emotional drama at its core. By the time the 10th episode wraps you’ll have been through the emotional wringer with Maura and his children Ali (Gaby Hoffman), Josh (Jay Duplass) and Sarah (Amy Landecker).

“You make me feel bad. You make me feel bad all the time.”

Casting the cisgendered Jeffery Tambor as Maura was a dangerous but ultimately wise decision. There are many talented transgendered actors out there waiting to be discovered, but Tambor brings a perfect balance of light and dark to his complicated role. He is also the most established actor in “Transparent’s” ensemble, and without him in the lead it may not have been made. Both Jay Duplass and Amy Landecker have interesting bodies of work, but of the siblings Gaby Hoffman is the only one of real renown. Transparent, Gaby Hoffman, Amy, Josh, Sarah A show about transsexuality needs transgendered actors, and on that front “Transparent” delivers. Every character other than Maura who identifies as a transsexual is played by an actual transgendered actor/actress. Given that it’s on Amazon, “Transparent” does not need to tiptoe around transphobia like it would have had to on a network. It stands in stark contrast to a show like “Modern Family” which barely acknowledges Cam and Mitchell’s alternative sexuality.

“This is me. This is how I always was, and this is me now.”

Flashbacks to 1994 illustrate how painful hiding from his sexuality was for Mort, even when he attends a weekend getaway for cross-dressers. In the past and in the present Maura faces adversity at every step and it’s cringe-worthy to watch. An early scene in a females bathroom, though brief, leaves a lasting mark. Transparent, transgender In regards to the sex, it sometimes seems that Amazon is trying to out HBO HBO; there’s hardcore sex of every kind and you see Gaby Hoffman’s bush at least three times. There are multiple lesbian sex scenes that are way more realistic than other sex scenes in that they aren’t quick, there’s no tribbing/scissoring, and they aren’t glamorous in the slightest. Imagine porn shot by a low-key mumble-core director, and you have your “Transparent” sex scenes.

“You know how serial killers want to see in your eyes that you know you’re going to die? Josh wants to see in your eyes that you love him.”

Running alongside Maura’s journey is the more typical but still harsh story of his children. All the Pfefferman’s are fucked up in extreme ways, and “Transparent” doesn’t shy away from how their various disorders and dysfunctions stem from their privilege as white wealthy Jews in Hollywood. Ali has never had a job and lives off of loans from her father, borderline sociopath Josh works at a record label, and Sarah is a stay at home mom who divorces her husband for her ex-lesbian lover without a second thought. None of them have ever had to really work, and they are incapable of putting even a modicum of effort into anything. Transparent, sex The story of the broader family is well-worn, but still interesting. There’s a realism to their dynamics that sets “Transparent” apart. In-jokes and references to slights and situations years past fly a mile a minute, and the show doesn’t stop to explain them because that’s not how family works. Everyone puts in a fantastic performance, including many of the high profile supporting actors such as Kathryn Hahn (a personal favorite), Bradley Whitford (another personal favorite) and Carrie Brownstein (perhaps my biggest personal favorite).

“Just because you’re from this family doesn’t mean you have to be like this family.”

The 2013-2014 TV drama season was a banner year, and with “Transparent” the 2014-2015 year looks to be just as great. This show came relatively out of nowhere but has already taken the world by storm, and it deserves all the acclaim it can get. TV has been flirting with transgender issues for a few years and “Transparent” blows the whole thing wide open, presenting us with one of the best family dramas in years.

My Rating: 9/10


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About Spencer Sterritt

Spencer Sterritt

Spencer Sterritt: former Editor-In-Chief for We Eat Films, future President of the Men With Beards Club, and hopefully candidate for ruler of the world.

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