Six months almost to the day before Caitlyn (Bruce) Jenner became the world’s most famous and public transsexual, Amazon made its own history with a dramedy about a 60-something father who decides to finally live his life on his own terms. It just so happens that is in high heels.
Played superbly by Emmy nominee and Golden Globe winner Jeffrey Tambor with unequaled raw emotion, Morty Pfefferman has wanted to be Maura for decades and a woman since he was 5 years old. Transparent is about his slow journey to self-discovery and announcing his womanhood to the world, and specifically his self-absorbed and neurotic children.
The series, which returns in December for season two, is set mostly in the wealthy enclave of Pacific Palisades, situated between Santa Monica and Malibu. Creator and director Jill Soloway (Six Feet Under) captures the pretense of the West Los Angeles upper-class to a tee: Transparent is just as much about the irony of selfishness and self-loathing as it is about a man’s decision to live full-time as the woman he’s always wanted to be.
Essentially, Maura’s three children are reprehensible and immature yet lovingly so, because despite their vanity there’s a odd innocence about them. Or perhaps that is due to their cluelessness. Maybe it’s because the family dysfunction makes you feel better than your own.
First, there’s the eldest daughter, Sarah (Amy Landecker), a confused to put it mildly housewife who waffles back and forth between her desire for her lover Tammy (Melora Hardin), an arrogant interior decorator who leaves her own partner to rekindle the collegiate lesbian romance, and her self-absorbed husband, Len.
But somehow we grow to like Sarah as we do her brother Josh (Jay Duplass), the womanizing record executive who has more sexual partners than work projects while secretly stoking the flames of a bizarre relationship with an older woman who was the kids’ babysitter. Whether its smoking pot and skinny dipping with Tammy’s former stepdaughter, impregnating his lone client or standing up Rabbi Raquel Fein (Kathryn Hahn), Josh is the epitome of bad judgment.
As is youngest sister Ali (Gaby Hoffmann), the depressed tomboy who can’t hold a job and survives on handouts from her dad while pursuing threesomes or denying the chance at a real relationship with her best friend (Carrie Brownstein). To say these characters are complex is the understatement of the year, to the point that Maura despite her gender identity crisis is easily the most sane banana in the bunch.
While critically acclaimed, the series has taken its lumps from some for being nothing more than a vehicle that celebrates Los Angeles-style immorality and excess, and to quench society’s sudden affinity for transgendered people and issues. But that assertion is a shortsighted one. Transparent is so much more than a show about a transgendered person; it’s about how family members co-exist and seek healing. All families are screwed up in some way, and the Pfeffermans are absolutely no exception.
The title is an obvious play on words but with each episode Transparent takes on deeper meaning, as secrets are exposed, not just that dad liked to wear mom’s (Judith Light) underwear. It explores the themes of resentment and favoritism, healing and forgiveness. That along with fantastic acting makes Transparent a clear winner.