Written by Sooz Kempner

Arts

Binging: Transparent

Binging bragging rights go squarely to Sooz Kempner who has seen right through Amazon Originals’ series Transparent. Right from series one through to series three, to be exact. In three days.

The cast of Transparent (from left) Judith Light, Amy Landecker, Jeffrey Tambor, Gaby Hoffmann and Jay Duplass. Photo: Amazon Studios.

The cast of Transparent (from left) Judith Light, Amy Landecker, Jeffrey Tambor, Gaby Hoffmann and Jay Duplass. Photo: Amazon Studios.

Last week I was having a social media tantrum begging for new TV shows to watch because I was still waiting for The Walking Dead and Crazy Ex-Girlfriend to start airing again.

Some legends whose opinions I trust recommended Transparent and I decided to overlook Amazon’s shitty (non-existent) tax-paying record and delve in to their Emmy-winning series about a 60-something father who comes out as transgender. Wait a second… Transparent… trans… parent… I JUST GOT IT!

I binged the entire show in about three days and although that is excessive (why not try to spread out the 30 episodes over a week?), I’ve got to tell you, it’s the best thing on television.

Aside from Jeffrey Tambor’s tour de force performance as Maura (formerly Mort), there’s an ex-wife, Shelly, who you and everyone else struggles to take seriously. Equally adorable and infuriating, Shelly has become the show’s most interesting character by the third season – you’ll have a great time going to Shell and back.

We spend much of our time hanging out with Shelly and Maura’s three adult children. The Pfefferman clan are all intelligent and witty and self-obsessed and incredibly spoilt. These are real people who have complex relationships with each other and with those around them.

“Jeffrey Tambor won a Golden Globe for his subtle performance as Maura and in his speech he said he hoped this would be the last time a cis actor would win an award for playing a trans character.”

Sarah in particular, played with uninhibited vigour by Amy Landecker, is a hot mess who flits between knowing exactly what she wants and having absolutely no clue what she wants. I don’t want to spoil anything but prepare for an excruciating wedding episode involving the whole family with Sarah front and centre.

There is a metric fucktonne of sex and nudity in Transparent. Some of it is sexy, some of it is hilarious, some of it is sad but none of it is gratuitous and somehow it’s all completely believable.

The outstanding performances, right down to the smallest bit-parts, are what will make you buy all the action. A standout cameo from my personal pinup Jason Mantzoukas as a sleazy-fun weed dealer is especially droll (it proves he’s a great actor because I ALMOST wouldn’t).

The semi-improvised feel to the dialogue and a lot of handheld camerawork stops the show from becoming a melodrama, and means that the farce (Gaby Hoffman as youngest Pfefferman sibling Ali getting not-very-sexy in a public bathroom with a trans man) never feels jarring alongside the incredibly poignant moments.

transparent poster
About halfway through season two I PM’d a friend: “This is the most Jewish show on TV.” There’s a whole lot of Judaism going on in Transparent. A career-best performance from Kathryn Hahn as a rabbi gave me something I don’t think we’ve seen before on-screen: somebody struggling with the Jewish faith. Crisis of faith in Christianity has been covered extensively, but Judaism is usually treated jovially in fiction and though there’s plenty of Jewish hijinks in Transparent it’s interesting to see it from another side.

Jeffrey Tambor won a Golden Globe for his subtle performance as Maura and in his speech he said he hoped this would be the last time a cis actor would win an award for playing a trans character.

I haven’t seen a lot of criticism for this casting decision, and that may be because showrunner Jill Soloway (who created the show after her own father came out as trans in 2011) has employed more than 80 transgender people to work on the show both on and off camera.

Exceptional performances from Trace Lysette and Alexandra Billings as Maura’s friends Davina and Shea are not just there to fill quotas. They are given their own storylines and, along with actors like Laverne Cox (Orange is the New Black’s Sophia) are paving the way for trans performers on screen.

There are no saints in Transparent. No heroes or villains. There’s a bunch of people you’re going to want to spend a lot of time with, and will occasionally want to shake. After binging on Transparent, I started to feel like I was the fourth Pfefferman child, which was no bad thing. I’d be the Pfefferman child who treats CNN like I used to treat Big Brother’s live feed and eat Ferrero Rocher for breakfast, natch.

The end of season three will be the most unlikely tear-jerker you’ve ever encountered. Roll on, season four.

@SoozUK

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Written by Sooz Kempner

Funny Women Variety Award Winner 2012. ASDA Kate Bush.