★★★★★ | Transparent
After Netflix’s phenomenal success creating original content for its streaming service with two Award winning television series, now Amazon has also stepped into the area which was once the sole territory of network and cable television with the launch of Transparent its very first own series. If you haven’t caught it yet (it’s free for AMAZON PRIME subscribers) then you’re missing out as it is one of the most innovative and enjoyable family dramas that has been seen on television for years.
It’s the story of Mort Pfefferman who has indulged and spoilt his grown-up children for years and now that he has retired he wants to share with them something that is important to him. When he asks them to gather to hear his news, they all just assume that it’s going to be something very tragic, like having terminal cancer.
What they are not prepared to learn is that Mort is going to become Maura. This is the female who has been trapped inside him since he was a kid, and now he wants to be true to him (or rather her) self.
The news doesn’t go over too well as these three self-absorbed siblings are all wrapped in their own lives, none of which are going too well. Sarah the oldest one feels trapped in an unhappy marriage and when Tammy her old college roommate with who she had a serious fling with shows up again, she finds an escape route.
Jay the middle one is a successful music producer and probably the most selfish of the three. He is used to dating girls young enough to be his daughters, although that goes a little sour when one of them double crosses him at the record company where he works. He finds salvation in religion. Well to be more precise, in dating the female Rabbi. His past will catch up with him in the end as is revealed in the final episode of this first series.
Then there is Ali the directionless brainy one who is too bright to hold down a day job so still relies on her father for handouts that she euphemistically calls ‘loans’. Her love life is equally impossible to define and when she starts dating a trans man, her brother Josh jokes that there he is now no longer the only one in his family that still likes ‘pussy’. Except his mother, but the mere thought of even contemplating his aged mother’s sex life is rather stomach turning.
She remarried soon after divorcing Mort years ago and her ancient new husband is now fading fast. A fact that Shelly is annoyed about as not only is looking after him as his sole career a great deal of hard work, but it interferes with her own life.
Amazon has billed this as a ‘downbeat comedy’ but what it is, in fact, is a wonderfully warm and funny series about the extraordinary journey that Maura is taking with such spirit and determination and how her choices are playing out with her family. It’s an astonishing career-defining performance from veteran actor Jeffrey Tambor who imbues the character with empathy, dignity and resilience even through the transitioning process is not always easy or comfortable. Maura may not be the most natural or charming of women, but somehow Tambor compels us to be so completely drawn to her and so wanting her to succeed.
Great supporting cast that includes Jay Duplass, Melora Hardin, Gaby Hoffman, Kathryn Hain and Amy Landecker. However, the only other scene-stealer in the piece (besides Tambor) is veteran actor Judith Light playing the classic Jewish mother/widow to the hilt.
The series is created and directed by Jill Soloway (Producer ‘Six Feet Under’) whose father revealed his own transitioning to her just three years ago. Although she claims that this is not at all autobiographical, she does nevertheless handle this potentially controversial subject superbly showing both remarkable insight and understanding. They were a few mumblings when the idea was initially announced that they not going to cast a transgender actor in the lead but no-one could possibly have portrayed Maura as superbly as Tambor. (Soloway did, however, make this a trans-friendly production hiring 20 in the cast and crew, and more than 60 trans men and women were employed as extras.)
Transparent is both bold and groundbreaking and is sophisticated quality programming that is usually the Hallmark of BBC or HBO, and I cannot wait for Series 2 to arrive.