Is it a surprise that Amazon finally has their first critically acclaimed “TV” show? Nope. It was only a matter of time. But it’s definitely a surprise that it has come in the form of Transparent.
Who would’ve thought a show about a family that comes apart at the seams when their father announces he has become “trans” would make such big waves for Amazon? It’s about as far from a safe bet as one can get.
So, beyond all of the big hoopla of another great show coming from a new content creator/distributor, what makes the show so great?
First off, it’s messy. The show is. The characters are. Even the indie vibe to the production has that messy feel to it and that fits it just right. This isn’t big budget HBO or a smooth AMC period piece. Instead, Transparent is rough around the edges, just like the family we follow episode to episode. And like any good television, it doesn’t feel episodic or fragmented, but instead feels like we’re on a long journey with the characters. Almost novel like.
As for plot and setup, it’s quite simple. A father comes out and struggles to tell his adult children that he is now a woman. Or more specifically, becoming a woman. “Trans.” Amazingly, the children take it in stride in terms of the factual new situation with their father/mother or whatever he/she is to them now, but it soon becomes the catalyst for their own lives to unravel and be examined.
Jeffrey Tambor plays the father. His adult children (in descending age) are played by Amy Landecker, Jay Duplass and Gaby Hoffmann. All are terrific, especially Tambor who brings a joy springing from sadness to his role that feels honest. No matter what your thoughts about a man deciding he’s always been a woman trapped inside the wrong gender, Tambor’s portrayal gives us all of the emotions a person must be feeling in that situation. The fears. Joys. Excitement. And even the guilt or shame. It’s all on display.
And I think that’s what makes the show work. These characters feel real. They’re deeply flawed. Make terrible decisions all the time. Some are happy to be in a mid-life crisis though unsure of what they’re doing, while others are realizing they haven’t even grown up yet and are trying to learn what being a 30 year old adult actually looks like. The youngest still acts like a child. I especially thought Jay Duplass’ realization that he wants a family felt deep and meaningful. Maybe it’s because I have a new baby, but his looking and sudden longing for something so far from his current bachelor lifestyle was great to watch.
In the end, my only issue with the show is one I think a lot of indie films struggle with. Sometimes it’s hard to care about characters who grew up in a well-educated, white, upper-middle class family. They didn’t have to work for anything. They didn’t have to struggle. They got what they wanted. Sure, we all have our own issues no matter what, but I definitely felt a slight tinge of “why should I care?” while watching these characters. For the most part, it simply stemmed from the fact that they don’t really suffer the consequences of bad choices beyond feeling crappy for a moment about themselves. Maybe that’ll change next season. Or maybe I’m over thinking it because I know that’s how most of us probably function in life.
But all in all, Transparent is a wonderful surprise to the fall season. Amazon has already renewed it for a second season so we will be seeing more of the Pfefferman family soon enough. I’ll be watching it. And so should you.